Robert Frank is among the most important living photographers, but to say this is to understate the self-evident. At the same time, it seems ironic to articulate the importance of an artist who is so indifferent to success and so suspicious... [more]
Robert Frank is among the most important living photographers, but to say this is to understate the self-evident. At the same time, it seems ironic to articulate the importance of an artist who is so indifferent to success and so suspicious of whatever is well regarded.
Frank's work chronicles the marginal and the unofficial wherever it is found, from the nondescript corner of some ratty diner in South Carolina, to the smudged window that opens onto the dreariest rooftops in Butte, Montana, to the vacant stare of an elevator operator in Miami Beach.
Frank's seminal photo-book "The Americans" (1958), containing 83 black-and-white pictures, was one of the pivotal events of post-war photography. Its skepticism toward what was then the secular religion of wholesomeness and cheer, its resistance to charm, its out-of-focus foregrounds, its deranged angles and, above all, its strange new mood of cool melancholy, were met with shock at the time. But by the 1960s, "The Americans" made the transition from infamy to reverence. Suddenly, Frank's gloom and doom seemed prophetic. His belief that the best pictures were tentative, imperfect, and free of rhetoric became the basis of a new artistic stance.
In the late 1950s, Frank gave up photography to concentrate on underground films and videos like "Pull My Daisy" (1959), a loopy encounter between a bishop and a group of Beat poets (Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso play at playing themselves, while Jack Kerouac narrates). His film and video adventure actually became a kind of disappearance -- a plunge into more obscure undertakings just as his work became more preoccupied with his personal life.
In the 1970s, Frank resumed making still photography, partly to come to terms with the grief brought on by the mental illness of his son Pablo, and the death of his daughter, Andrea, in a plane crash at the age of 21. But his pictures during this period were different. Typically, several prints were grouped roughly together with despairing messages inked across them. The romantic self-absorption that lent power to his work in the 1950s began to obscure every other concern. If, previously, Frank's mood shaped his pictures of the larger world, now his audience was expected simply to make what it could of his private sorrows. Frank tended to settle so deeply into the rubble of his own life that few can hope to follow his trajectory. In the self-reflecting video, "Home Improvements," he explains: "I am always looking outside, trying to look inside." [show less]