New Orleans Trolley Car, 1955. All photos by Robert Frank
Robert Frank, the radical photographer and filmmaker who famously documented the darkness, racism and inequality of an ostensibly shiny postwar America, has died at 94. As a Swiss immigrant and outsider, Frank's "unsparing eye sought to portray things as they really were—unaestheticized, somewhat plain, more than a little dour." In the 1950s, Frank spent two years crossing the country in an old car, funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship; the result was his classic "The Americans," whose 83 stark images - carefully chosen out of almost 30,000 - created a gritty portrait of everyday life. In a nod to the hipster/beat spirit they shared, Jack Kerouac wrote a stream-of-consciousness introduction praising Frank's "agility, mystery, genius, sadness and strange secrecy" as he depicted “THAT CRAZY FEELING IN AMERICA when the sun is hot on the streets and music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral." Ultimately, he wrote, the book “sucked a sad poem out of America.” Frank himself had plenty of sadness in his life - a son and daughter both died - but he kept working. Over the years, he also made several films; the best-known is probably Cocksucker Blues," his ribald 1972 documentary on the Rolling Stones. Still, for many he is best remembered for his bleak, honest, elegant depictions of a country divided by race and class and its own failings to live up to its promise. "You made the margins your home," wrote one fan in tribute, "and changed photography." RIP.
Parade. Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955
Charleston, South Carolina, 1955