Robert Frank - Photographs New York Thursday, October 8, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Pace/MacGill Gallery
    to a Private Collection, California

  • Literature

    Grove Press, The Americans, cover and pl. 18
    Delpire, Les Américains pl. 18
    Steidl, The Americans, cover and n.p.
    National Gallery of Art, Washington/Steidl, Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, pp. 6-7, 232, 466, contact sheet 18/19
    National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank/Moving Out, pp. 172 (contact sheet) and 196
    Bulfinch Press, On the Art of Fixing A Shadow: 150 Years of Photography, p. 357
    Dexter and Weski, Cruel and Tender: The Real in the 20th Century Photograph, p. 109
    High Museum of Art, Chorus of Light: Photographs from the Sir Elton John Collection, p. 89
    Papageorge, Walker Evans and Robert Frank, An Essay on Influence, p. 41

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Across the USA I have photographs with these ideas in mind: to portray Americans as they live at present. Their every day and their Sunday, their realism and dream. The look of cities, towns, and highways.” – Robert Frank

    As the first European to be awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955, Robert Frank embarked on a cross-country journey that, over nine months, took him through 30 states with over 700 rolls of film. In the fall of 1955 he arrived in the American South, on the cusp of the Civil Rights movement and was astonished by the discrimination he witnessed. Frank described the impression it left: “My attitude changed when I saw the South for the first time. That was the strongest and most unforgettable impression. The injustice to people who have another skin color.” Whereas his mentor Walker Evans documented the South by focusing on objects and the past; Frank honed in on ‘the now’, the people and the adversity they faced every day. This adversity was something that Frank could relate to; just days before reaching Louisiana where this iconic image Trolley, New Orleans was taken, he was arrested for suspicious activity. He found the experience humiliating, but it amplified his compassion and sharpened his perspective while he photographed "[I] became like a cop watching people, observing them, stealing." His photography style became casual, but acute, with constant movement, quoting his friend Allen Ginsberg "First thought, best thought. .... When one releases a second time, there is already a moment lost." While observing a parade in New Orleans, he turned away from the procession and stumbled upon the scene he would capture: the stark profiles of six passengers framed by the windows of a crowded trolley. From left to right they are perfectly ordered echoing the American social hierarchy of the era. Each figure either staring ahead or to the side with expressions void and isolated. The image provides a piercing social commentary on American race relations in the mid twentieth century but it does so with the visual language of an artist. Frank had a fascination with windows as seen throughout the images in The Americans. In cars, buildings, buses, or trolleys, windows mimicked the camera’s lens and created natural frames within the photos. Trolley, New Orleans is dominated by framing windows which divide the passengers while the upper register contains abstract and ambiguous reflections of the surrounding buildings; a theme reminiscent of the abstract paintings of contemporaries Alfred Leslie, Franz Kline, and Williem de Kooning. Frank’s mastery of the medium is thus evident in his ability to seamlessly address the complexity of contemporary social issues with great aesthetic interest.

    Trolley, New Orleans,, along with 82 other images, was carefully sequenced in Frank’s seminal book Les Américains, printed by French publisher, Delpire in 1958. The following year American publisher Barney Rosset of Grove Press, known to take on challenging projects, published The Americans. Rosset‘s edition included writings by Jack Kerouac, a collage by Alfred Leslie on the back cover, and featured this stunning image Trolley, New Orleans on the front cover. Based on the social and political climate of the time, the book was met with resistance and was strongly criticized for being ‘Anti-American.’ The New Yorker, however, recognizing Frank’s astute observations, called the work a “beautiful social comment” that exposed “the special quality of American life with brutal sensitivity.” Sixty years later, that sentiment remains and The Americans stands as one of the most influential bodies of work in the history of the medium with this quintessential image as the introduction and embodiment of Frank’s historic endeavor.

    Other prints of this image are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

  • Artist Biography

    Robert Frank

    Swiss • 1924

    As one of the leading visionaries of mid-century American photography, Robert Frank has created an indelible body of work, rich in insight and poignant in foresight. In his famed series The Americans, Frank travelled the United States, capturing the parade of characters, hierarchies and imbalances that conveyed his view of the great American social landscape.

    Frank broke the mold of what was considered successful documentary photography with his "snapshot aesthetic." It is Frank's portrayal of the United States through grit and grain that once brought his work to the apex of criticism, but has now come to define the art of documentary photography.

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Trolley, New Orleans

Gelatin silver print, printed 1980s.
5 7/8 x 9 1/4 in. (14.9 x 23.5 cm)
Signed, titled and dated in ink in the margin.

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $149,000

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New York Auction 8 October 2015