Robert Louis Frank (Zurigo, 9 novembre 1924) è un fotografo e regista svizzero naturalizzato statunitense
Nato in una famiglia di origini ebraiche, dal 1941 al 1944 lavora come assistente fotografo al seguito di Hermann Segesser e Michael Wolgensinger. Nel 1946 si autofinanzia la prima pubblicazione, cui dà il titolo di 40 Fotos. Nel 1947 lascia l’Europa per trasferirsi negli Stati Uniti. A New York Alexey Brodovitch lo ingaggia come fotografo di moda per Harper’s Bazaar. Parallelamente alla fotografia di moda svolge una prolifica attività di reporter freelance che lo porta ad affrontare viaggi in Perù e Bolivia nel 1948 (una selezione delle fotografie là riprese sono pubblicate sulla rivista Neuf di Robert Delpire nel 1952 e, quattro anni dopo, nel libro Indiens pas morts) e nel 1949 in Europa (Francia, Italia, Svizzera e Spagna). Le fotografie di Parigi sono pubblicate in un libro dell’artista Mary Lockspeiser, che Frank sposerà l’anno successivo. Nel 1950 Frank ha già un nome ed Edward Steichen include alcune sue fotografie nella mostra 51 American Photographers allestita al Museum of Modern Art di New York e poi nella celebre The Family of Man del 1955.
Tra il 1952 e il 1953 continua in Europa la sua attività di reporter tra Parigi, Londra, Galles, Spagna e Svizzera. In questo periodo abbandona definitivamente la fotografia di moda e comincia a lavorare sempre più seriamente come fotogiornalista freelance. Nel 1955 Robert Frank è il primo fotografo europeo a ricevere la borsa di studio annuale promossa dalla Fondazione Guggenheim di New York. Con i soldi ricevuti viaggia per tutti gli Stati Uniti dal 1955 al 1956, riprendendo oltre 24.000 fotografie. Nel 1958 Robert Delpire pubblica a Parigi Les Américains, una selezione di 83 immagini tratte dal viaggio americano e l’anno dopo la Grove Press pubblica il volume negli Stati Uniti col titolo The Americans.
Al contempo Frank viene a contatto con i principali esponenti della nuova generazione letteraria e artistica americana, soprattutto con gli esponenti della Beat Generation. In primo luogo stringe una salda amicizia con lo scrittore Jack Kerouac, col quale porta a termine varie collaborazioni. Oltre ad aver compiuto un viaggio on the road insieme, compiuto nel 1958 verso la Florida, Kerouac si occupa di scrivere l’introduzione al libro The Americans per l’edizione americana. Nel 1959 viene realizzata la più nota collaborazione con la Beat Generation, quando Frank, unitamente al pittore Alfred Leslie, dirige il suo primo film, Pull My Daisy. Scritto e narrato da Jack Kerouac e interpretato, tra gli altri, da Allen Ginsberg e Gregory Corso, il film sarà considerato il padre del New American Cinema.
Negli anni sessanta, nonostante il crescente successo dei suoi lavori, Frank abbandona la fotografia per dedicarsi completamente alla realizzazione di film. Un cinema, il suo, carico di tensioni e tematiche prettamente private e introspettive, come Conversations in Vermont (1969) o About Me: A Musical (1971). Collabora ancora con i beats, soprattutto Ginsberg, Orlovsky e Burroughs, ma anche con i Rolling Stones (Cocksucker Blues, 1972, documentario censurato dallo stesso gruppo), Tom Waits, Joe Strummer (Candy Mountain, 1986) e Patti Smith.
Dopo la tragica perdita della figlia Andrea, appena ventenne, Frank ricomincia a riutilizzare la macchina fotografica. Dalla metà degli anni settanta a oggi, la sua fotografia è lontana dai reportage precedenti: usa collage, vecchie fotografie, fotogrammi, polaroid; scrive, graffia e incide direttamente sul lato sensibile della pellicola. Frank alterna soggiorni a New York con lunghe permanenze a Mabou, in Nova Scotia, insieme alla compagna e pittrice June Leaf.
Nel 1994 dona gran parte del suo materiale artistico alla National Gallery of Art di Washington che crea la Robert Frank Collection; è la prima volta che accade per un artista vivente. Nel 1996 ottiene l’Hasselblad Award e nel 2000 il Cornell Capa Award. Tra il 2005 e il 2006 un’ulteriore retrospettiva della sua vita artistica gira il mondo: si tratta della mostra Robert Frank: Story Lines, partita da Londra nel novembre 2004.
Qua un interessante approfondimento su Frank pubblicato sul NY Times
Robert Frank (born November 9, 1924) is an American photographer and documentary filmmaker. His most notable work, the 1958 book titled The Americans, earned Frank comparisons to a modern-day de Tocqueville for his fresh and nuanced outsider’s view of American society. Critic Sean O’Hagan, writing in The Guardian in 2014, said The Americans “changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it. [ . . . ] it remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century.” Frank later expanded into film and video and experimented with manipulating photographs and photomontage.
Frank was born in Switzerland. Frank states in the 2005 documentary “Leaving Home, Coming Home” by Director Gerald Fox, that his mother, Rosa (other sources state her name as Regina), had a Swiss passport, while his father, Hermann originating from Frankfurt, Germany had become stateless after losing his German citizenship as a Jew. They had to apply for the Swiss citizenship of Frank and his older brother, Manfred. Though Frank and his family remained safe in Switzerland during World War II, the threat of Nazism nonetheless affected his understanding of oppression. He turned to photography, in part as a means to escape the confines of his business-oriented family and home, and trained under a few photographers and graphic designers before he created his first hand-made book of photographs, 40 Fotos, in 1946. Frank emigrated to the United States in 1947, and secured a job in New York City as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar. He soon left to travel in South America and Europe. He created another hand-made book of photographs that he shot in Peru, and returned to the U.S. in 1950. That year was momentous for Frank, who, after meeting Edward Steichen, participated in the group show 51 American Photographers at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); he also married fellow artist Mary Frank née Mary Lockspeiser, with whom he had two children, Andrea and Pablo.
Though he was initially optimistic about the United States’ society and culture, Frank’s perspective quickly changed as he confronted the fast pace of American life and what he saw as an overemphasis on money. He now saw America as an often bleak and lonely place, a perspective that became evident in his later photography. Frank’s own dissatisfaction with the control that editors exercised over his work also undoubtedly colored his experience. He continued to travel, moving his family briefly to Paris. In 1953, he returned to New York and continued to work as a freelance photojournalist for magazines including McCall’s, Vogue, and Fortune. Associating with other contemporary photographers such as Saul Leiter and Diane Arbus, he helped form what Jane Livingston has termed The New York School of photographers (not to be confused with the New York School of art) during the 1940s and 1950s.
With the aid of his major artistic influence, the photographer Walker Evans, Frank secured a Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1955 to travel across the United States and photograph all strata of its society. Cities he visited included Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan; Savannah, Georgia; Miami Beach and St. Petersburg, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Reno, Nevada; Salt Lake City, Utah; Butte, Montana; and Chicago, Illinois. He took his family along with him for part of his series of road trips over the next two years, during which time he took 28,000 shots. 83 of these were selected by him for publication in The Americans.
Frank’s journey was not without incident. He later recalled the anti-Semitism to which he was subject in a small Arkansas town. “I remember the guy [policeman] took me into the police station, and he sat there and put his feet on the table. It came out that I was Jewish because I had a letter from the Guggenheim Foundation. They really were primitive.” He was told by the sheriff, “Well, we have to get somebody who speaks Yiddish. They wanted to make a thing out of it. It was the only time it happened on the trip. They put me in jail. It was scary. Nobody knew where I was.” Elsewhere in the South, he was told by a sheriff that he had “an hour to leave town.”
Shortly after returning to New York in 1957, Frank met Beat writer Jack Kerouac on the sidewalk outside a party and showed him the photographs from his travels. Kerouac immediately told Frank “Sure I can write something about these pictures,” and he contributed the introduction to the U.S. edition of The Americans. Frank also became lifelong friends with Allen Ginsberg, and was one of the main visual artists to document the Beat subculture, which felt an affinity with Frank’s interest in documenting the tensions between the optimism of the 1950s and the realities of class and racial differences. The irony that Frank found in the gloss of American culture and wealth over this tension gave his photographs a clear contrast to those of most contemporary American photojournalists, as did his use of unusual focus, low lighting and cropping that deviated from accepted photographic techniques.
This divergence from contemporary photographic standards gave Frank difficulty at first in securing an American publisher. Les Américains was first published in 1958 by Robert Delpire in Paris, as part of its Encyclopédie Essentielle series, with texts by Simone de Beauvoir, Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner, Henry Miller and John Steinbeck that Delpire positioned opposite Frank’s photographs. It was finally published in 1959 in the United States, without the texts, by Grove Press, where it initially received substantial criticism. Popular Photography, for one, derided his images as “meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness.” Though sales were also poor at first, the fact that the introduction was by the popular Kerouac helped it reach a larger audience. Over time and through its inspiration of later artists, The Americans became a seminal work in American photography and art history, and is the work with which Frank is most clearly identified. Critic Sean O’Hagan, writing in The Guardian in 2014, said “it is impossible to imagine photography’s recent past and overwhelmingly confusing present without his lingeringly pervasive presence.” and that The Americans “changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it. [ . . . ] it remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century.”
In 1961, Frank received his first individual show, entitled Robert Frank: Photographer, at the Art Institute of Chicago. He also showed at MoMA in New York in 1962.
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first publication of The Americans, a new edition was released worldwide on May 30, 2008. For this new edition from Steidl most photographs are uncropped compared with the cropped versions in previous editions, and two photographs are replaced with those of the same subject but from an alternate perspective.
A celebratory exhibit of The Americans, titled Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, was displayed in 2009 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.The second section of the four-section, 2009, SFMOMA exhibition displays Frank’s original application to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (which funded the primary work on The Americans project), along with vintage contact sheets, letters to photographer Walker Evans and author Jack Kerouac, and two early manuscript versions of Kerouac’s introduction to the book. Also exhibited were three collages (made from more than 115 original rough work prints) that were assembled under Frank’s supervision in 2007 and 2008, revealing his intended themes as well as his first rounds of image selection. An accompanying book, also titled Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, was published.
Here an interesting article published on the NY Times