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  • Exhibited

    Robert Frank: London/ Wales, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 10 May- 14 July 2003

  • Literature

    Brookman, Robert Frank, p. 95; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Robert Frank: London/Wales, frontice piece and p. 95

  • Catalogue Essay



    After leaving in his native Switzerland in 1947, Robert Frank embarked on a six-year journey, during which he travelled around the world, starting in New York and ultimately landing in the United Kingdom. Despite his upscale and privileged background, Frank travelled modestly, choosing to experience each new place the locals did, avoiding tourist traps and cushy lodgings. Accordingly, Frank’s body of work from the time was concerned with capturing the people whose essence he felt personified the place most accurately, as was the case with Ben James.
    James, at the time a 53-year old father of one, was a third-generation miner in Caerau, a mining village in Glamorgan, South Wales. In many ways, one could argue, James and Frank had much in common. Although the two came from opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum, both were born into a marginal lifestyle and to a pre-determined fate.
    The photo essay on Ben James, which first appeared in U.S. Camera Annual in 1955, was shot over a number of weeks, during which Frank closely followed the miner and his family. Frank bypassed the common photojournalistic traps, namely, full-body posing, frontal gaze, and emphasis on settings to embellish the narrative. Instead, James occupies the frame nearly in its entirety, his elbows and a sliver of his helmet cropped off, giving him a slightly monumental feel. He sits slightly tilted, smoking, looking outside of the frame, appearing caught mid-thought, which altogether lend him an air of privacy and dignity. Two strong hands dangle at each side, confidently flanking his torso and subtly counterbalancing the soot-covered face that would have been tempting bait for a merciful portrait by most other photographers. But in Frank’s lens, James is not lauded as a martyr or a symbol of poverty, but humanized to a point of accessibility.
    I could have followed a livelier and perhaps more colourful Welsh miner but I’m happy I decided to portray Ben James. When I said farewell to him I realised that no future story on any Welsh miner will look as this one does.
    Robert Frank, US Camera Annual, 1955

  • 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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299

Ben James, Welsh Miner

1953
Gelatin silver print.
12 7/8 x 8 3/8 in. (32.7 x 21.3 cm).
Signed in ink on the verso.

Estimate
$60,000 - 80,000 

PHOTOGRAPHS

16 April 2010
New York