“A Portrait of America That Still Haunts, Decades Later”

Robert Frank chose this image for the cover of “The Americans,” published in 1959.

With all that’s going on in America and the world, Arthur Lubow tells us what he sees in Robert Frank’s image, “Trolley–New Orleans” taken in 1955.

As you scroll down the online piece in The New York Times, the images change and cropped versions cleverly come up to match Mr. Lubow’s commentary. 

If you are unfamiliar with the seminal book “The Americans” by Robert Frank who passed away last year at 94 years of age, it contains 83 stark black and white images including the one above, chosen from more than 27,000 that Mr. Frank’s made during two cross-country trips in the late fifties. 

His images portrayed America in stark contrast form the popular magazines of the time like the Saturday Evening Post or Life Magazine. He showed the loneliness and tensions of urban life.

When the book came out in 1959, Practical Photography magazine described the images as  “meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness.”

But with time the popular consencus  is that The Americans is a masterpiece of documentary and street photography.  

When you look back at the work, you see an America that maybe hasn’t come that far in sixty years. The Trolley image was taken a few weeks before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Frank was shooting a street parade when he saw the trolley pass by. 

“The portrait of the man gazing with infinite sadness out of slightly unfocused eyes is unforgettable.” said Mr. Lubow. See the piece HERE

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