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The Robert Frank Collection

Detroit Greyhound Station, 1955, 1993.35.7

Detroit Greyhound Station, 1955, 1993.35.7

The Guggenheim Trip, 1955–1957

In October 1954, with the guidance of Walker Evans, Frank applied for a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, proposing to drive across the United States photographing American life.

He was awarded the fellowship and in the summer of 1955 began his 10,000-mile journey with a trip to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. He then traveled with Mary down the East Coast, photographing in North and South Carolina and Georgia. That fall he drove to Florida, and from there he crossed the country, through Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada, arriving in California around Christmas. While in California, Frank applied for a renewal of the Guggenheim fellowship. When it was granted in April 1956, he drove a northern route back to New York, passing through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The map below charts the three routes driven by Frank during the period of his Guggenheim fellowship.

Red: late June – mid-July 1955
Gold: summer 1955
Blue: October 1955 – early June 1956

A dotted line indicates an unconfirmed route.

Hoover Dam, Nevada, 1955, 1993.27.2

Hoover Dam, Nevada, 1955, 1993.27.2

Back in New York by June 1956, Frank developed film, made and reviewed contact sheets of all 767 rolls of film shot for the project, made approximately 1,000 work prints, and began to sequence the photographs that would become his seminal book, The Americans.

After choosing frames from his contact sheets to print, Frank annotated his work prints with the corresponding number of the roll of film, often in red grease pencil. He then spread them on the floor and thumbtacked them to walls, grouping them by themes such as race, religion, politics and the media, as well as subjects including cemeteries, jukeboxes, and lunch counters. Frank moved the pictures, sometimes ripping them, and eliminated hundreds before arriving at the 83 prints to be included in The Americans. He continued to refine his selections through June 1957.

For the 2009 exhibition, Looking In: Robert Frank's "The Americans," Frank worked with curators at the National Gallery to recreate groupings of Guggenheim work prints for display. These large panels were meant to evoke Frank's process of culling and narrowing down over 20,000 frames shot during his travels.

Guggenheim work print panels

Guggenheim photographs not published in The Americans

For a list of prints, contact sheets, and work prints produced during Frank's Guggenheim trip, broken down by state, including those published in The Americans, see Robert Frank photographs, contact sheets, and work prints from the Guggenheim trip, including those published in The Americans. This spreadsheet notes only those objects indicated by Frank to have been products of the Guggenheim trip. For other objects related to the trip but not explicitly linked to the trip by Frank, see categories on Robert Frank photographs, contact sheets, and work prints in the collection, such as "Jay, NY," "Toy Ball," "Cowboys," "Congressional," "Juke boxes," "Newburgh, NY," and "Convention."