Famous Photographers Of Urban Scenes
Robert Frank

"It is always the instantaneous reaction
to oneself that produces a photograph."
Robert Frank
Robert Frank - Elevator

Robert Frank was born in Switzerland in 1924 to a bourgeois Jewish family. His first steps into the world of photography took him away from the family business, where he apprenticed himself to commercial photographers.

In 1947 he emigrated to America in the hope of pursuing a career as a magazine photographer. He created a little hand made book entitled "40 Fotos" which he showed to the art director Alexey Brodovitch, who hired him immediately on the strength of it.

He then decided that he wanted to travel and so took six months off to explore and photograph Peru and Bolivia. Perhaps this is where he began his independent streak of wanting to produce his own photographic documentary projects, which he would later become famous for.

Robert Frank - From the BusHe continued to work for magazines until 1951 after which he began to travel more and exhibit his work and win prizes. By 1954 his reputation was such that he was awarded the first non American Guggenheim fellowship.

Frank first proposed The Americans project in 1955 as "a visual study of a civilization…an authentic contemporary document". Using only natural available light Frank exposed 750 rolls of 35mm film and from these he chose the 83 that became The Americans.

During the 1960's Frank devoted himself to making films and returned to photography during the early 1970's. His work shifted from cultural to private issues, partly due to the tragic death of his daughter in a plane crash.

Robert Frank's Technique

Frank was influenced by the work of Walker Evans with his understanding of the importance of the mundane and good composition.

Robert Frank - SaintRobert Franks work is created to give the viewer a new way of seeing the world with the use of grainy, dramatic, blurred and tilted shots.

Also The work of Bill Brandt which was surreal, poetic and documentary in style helped to shape Franks own photographic work and style.

His style was summed up by the beat author Jack Kerouac who said in his introduction to The Americans in 1959 "Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand, he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world".

Robert Franks Own Take on Street Photography

"Black and white are the colours of photography. To me, they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected. Most of my photographs are of people; they are seen simply, as through the eyes of the man in the street".

"There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough, there has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph".

The Americans

A five minute video highlighting Robert Franks Work.