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A 'Giant of Photography' Is Dead

Robert Frank is considered one of the 20th century's greatest photographers
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 10, 2019 11:39 AM CDT
In this May 18, 2009 file photo, a man looks at prints from the Looking In: Robert Frank's "The Americans" exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
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(Newser) – Robert Frank, a giant of 20th century photography whose seminal book The Americans captured singular, candid moments of the 1950s and helped free picture-taking from the boundaries of clean lighting and linear composition, has died. He was 94, the AP reports. Frank died Monday on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, the New York Times reported, citing Peter MacGill, whose Manhattan gallery has represented Frank's work since 1983. Frank and his second wife, June Leaf, divided their time between New York and Nova Scotia. The Swiss-born Frank influenced countless photographers and was likened to Alexis de Tocqueville for so vividly capturing the US through the eyes of a foreigner. Besides his still photography, Frank was a prolific filmmaker, creating more than 30 movies and videos, including a cult favorite about the Beats and a graphic, censored documentary of the Rolling Stones' 1972 tour.

Black-and-white Super 8 pictures by Frank were featured on the cover of the Stones' Exile On Main Street, one of rock 'n' roll's most acclaimed albums. But he was best known for The Americans, a montage that countered the 1950s myth of bland prosperity and opened vast new possibilities for photography, shifting the paradigm from the portrait to the snapshot. As essential to post-war culture as a Chuck Berry song or a Beat poem, Frank's shots featured jukeboxes, luncheonettes, cigars, big cars, and endless highways, with an American flag often in the picture. The 83 black-and-white photographs were culled from more than 28,000 images Frank took from 1955 to 1957 during a cross-country trip made on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Considered by many as one of the most important books of photography published since World War II, finding a publisher for The Americans was difficult, and the book was not initially well received. (Much more on that, and Frank's life, here.)


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