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In Memoriam: Robert Frank (1924–2019)

Robert Frank, New York City, 7 Bleecker Street, 1993, gelatin silver print, Robert Frank Collection, Gift of Robert Frank, 1994.37.3

“We are deeply saddened with the death of Robert Frank. He was unquestionably one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. His poetic book The Americans, one of the most acclaimed photography publications of all time, looked at our country with the fresh eyes of an outsider to reveal both its ills and its beauty. The National Gallery of Art has had a long and rich history with Mr. Frank and was extremely honored that he selected the museum to be the repository of his work in 1990. With his support, the Gallery has the largest collection of his art.

"It has been our great pleasure to work with him on several exhibitions, including Robert Frank: Moving Out (1994) and Looking In: Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ (2009)—both of which traveled to museums around the world.”

Kaywin Feldman
Director, National Gallery of Art

“Robert Frank changed the course of 20th-century photography. His book The Americans, published in 1958 and 1959, looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a country plagued by racism, ill served by its politicians, and rendered numb by a culture of consumerism that promised great choice but provided little satisfaction. But Frank also saw novel areas of beauty in simple, overlooked corners of American life—in our cars, diners, and even the road itself.

"Although the book was deeply revered by numerous generations of photographers and artists, Frank did not easily wear its mantle of fame. Endowed with a restlessness that pervaded both his personality and his art, he spent the next 50 years making deeply personal photographs and films that always pushed the boundaries of their craft as they strove to be both more truthful and more honest.

"We are all poorer with his death and without the example of his integrity, his fierce commitment to his art, and his constant quest, as he once said, for ‘less taste and more spirit . . . less art and more truth.’”

Sarah Greenough
Senior Curator and Head, Department of Photographs, National Gallery of Art

This horizontal black and white photograph shows the exterior of a trolley car cropped to show only the mid-section with six passengers inside. The passengers look out of five windows on the left side of the trolley, so their bodies face our left in profile. The four people at the front end, to our left, are white; two people at the back, to our right, are Black. From left to right: a man looks out through the glass of the closed window along the left edge of the photograph. The remaining windows are open. An older woman wearing a dark coat looks at us from under arched eyebrows, lips pursed, out of the next window, to our right. A boy and a young girl look out of the central window. Closer inspection reveals the dark form of a woman next to them, lost in the shadowy interior of the trolley. In the next window, a Black man wearing a long-sleeved, button-down shirt leans onto the window ledge with both forearms, and, in the right-most window, a woman wearing glasses looks over her shoulder, up and away from us. That last window is cropped by the edge of the photograph. The scene behind us is reflected in glass panes above the seats on the exterior of the trolley.

Robert Frank, Trolley—New Orleans, 1955, gelatin silver print, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, 2001.8.1

The Robert Frank Collection

The Robert Frank Collection at the National Gallery of Art is the largest repository of materials related to renowned photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank. Spanning Frank's career from 1937 to 2005, the collection includes vintage and later prints, contact sheets, work prints, negatives, three bound books of original photographs, technical material, and various papers, books, and recordings.

Transforming Destiny into Awareness: Robert Frank's "The Americans"
Audio, Released: February 3, 2009, (48:33 minutes)

Elson Lecture 2009: Robert Frank
Audio, Released: April 7, 2009, (61:06 minutes)

Looking In: Robert Frank's 'The Americans'
Audio, Released: January 13, 2009, (28:33 minutes)