Art //

Exhibit | Robert Frank: Books and Films 1947-2016

A wholly new way of looking at one of the preeminent figures of twentieth-century photography.

Miss Rosenby Miss Rosen
Visitors queuing outside Anna Leonowens Gallery, NSCAD, Halifax, September 2014. ©Steidl

Robert Frank is one of the preeminent figures of twentieth-century photography, defining an entire generation with his approach to the medium. With the 1958 publication of The Americans, comparisons were drawn to Alexis de Tocqueville, as his outsider’s perspective allowed him to see his subject afresh.

In an interview with Aperture in 1961, Frank observed, “Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected. Most of my photographs are of people; they are seen simply, as through the eyes of the man in the street. There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough–there has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph. It is difficult to describe this thin line where matter ends and mind begins.”

Born in Switzerland in 1924, Frank emigrated to the United States in 1947. With him he brought 40 Photographs, his first handmade book, which he used as a professional portfolio. The creation of this book gave deep insights into the editing and sequencing of his work, a process that he would go on to explore throughout his career.

Robert Frank checking the design of the book cover of the 50th anniversary edition of The Americans at Steidl Publishers, Germany, 2007. © Steidl

Robert Frank checking the design of the book cover of the 50th anniversary edition of The
Americans at Steidl Publishers, Germany, 2007. © Steidl

By the time The Americans was published, Frank had begun to shift his focus away from photography to focus on filmmaking. As he revealed, ““A decision: I put my Leica in a cupboard. Enough of lying in wait, pursuing, sometimes catching the essence of the black and the white, the knowledge where God is. I make films. Now I speak to the people in my viewfinder. Not simple and not especially successful.” Among his films was Pull My Daisy (1959), narrated by Jack Kerouac and starring Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, among others. He continued making films, and returned to photography in the 1970s, continuing to publish a series of monographs of his work.

In more recent years, Frank has begun collaborating with Gerhard Steidl, most recently with the exhibition Robert Frank: Books and Films, 1947–2016, on view at New York University through February 11, 2016, which marks the launch of the exhibition’s US tour. Organized by Steidl Verlag, the show will visit more than fifty universities, art schools, museums and other non-profit spaces worldwide, with the aim of doing justice to Frank’s life and work.The exhibition is not a retrospective, but rather a wholly new way of looking at Frank’s work as a book and filmmaker.

Robert Frank at Anna Leonowens Gallery, NSCAD, Halifax, September 2014. © Steidl

Robert Frank at Anna Leonowens Gallery, NSCAD, Halifax, September 2014. © Steidl

Robert Frank: Books and Films, 1947–2016 presents 24 books, all of which were designed by Frank himself, including Portfolio (1947), Peru (1948), Black White and Things (1952), his highly celebrated The Americans (1958 and 1959), and his most recent book Was haben wir gesehen / What we have seen (2016). It also presents for the first time Frank’s entire filmic output, produced between 1959 and 2008, including Pull My Daisy (1959), Me and My Brother (1968), This Song for Jack (1983), True Story (2004), and Fernando (2008). The exhibition also presents his photographs, which are printed in sequences of four to five on up to three-meter-long paper banners that are installed directly onto the wall without frames. The effect is as singular, innovative, and impressive as Frank’s work, reminding us of the power of the individual to change the way we look at the world.


Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.