Robert Frank - Photographs New York Saturday, April 9, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Literature

    Bulfinch Press, On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: 150 Years of Photography, pp. 345 and 356; National Gallery of Art, Washington/Steidl, Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, p. 231 there dated 1954; National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert Frank: Moving Out, p. 183; Scalo, The Americans, pl. 17

  • Catalogue Essay

    After leaving his native Switzerland in 1947, Robert Frank embarked on a world-wide tour that took him to Cuba, Panama, Bolivia, Peru, New York, France, England, Switzerland, Italy and Wales. At the end of his travels, Frank chose to return to New York in a concentrated effort to establish himself as a photographer. His wish was to expose “the kind of civilization born here and spreading elsewhere,” as he expressed in his application to the Guggenheim Fellowship, which he was granted in 1955. Over a period of 9 months, 30 states, 767 rolls of film, more than a thousand work prints, and 10,000 miles, Frank lifted a myriad of social rocks off the manicured American lawn to reveal the underlying characters, hierarchies and imbalances that had been shoved away from plain sight by mainstream media. Throughout his travels, Frank enjoyed a dual advantage: a foreigner with detached observation as well as an insider with genuine love for his newfound home. The ambiguity precluded his works from becoming self-righteous critiques or sentimental odes. The result was Frank’s most iconic photographic compilation, The Americans.

    First published in 1958 in France and then in 1959 in the United States, The Americans undertook the signifiers of the American quintessence and turned them on their head—a Hollywood starlet seems lost and dazed at a premiere; a lone cowboy leans against a trash can by the side of the road; the romanticized trolley ride in New Orleans reveals the segregated socioracial strata; and, as seen in the current lot—the American flag, grandiose in scale but lacking the presence on the day assigned to commemorate its significance.

    The American flag is featured in four photographs within The Americans: Parade– Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955; Navy Recruiting Station, Post Office– Butte, Montana, 1956; Bar– Detroit, 1955; and Fourth of July– Jay, New York, 1954. While at first glance, the flag in Fourth of July appears to be prominent in its central occupation of the scene, a closer inspection subverts said perception. Evidence of haphazard restoration abounds, from the mismatched patches to the extensive stitches across the stripes, collectively turning the flag to a worn, scarred drape. Moreover, a gaping tear along the lower edge speaks of the flag’s unraveling on literal and figurative levels alike. Its cropping at the top reflects the waning respect with which it has come to be treated. Of significance, also, is the flag being see-through, a ghost of sorts, standing motionless over the scene unfolding in front of the viewers. Despite, or perhaps because of his foreign origin, Frank neatly captured the country’s shifting attitude towards patriotism, and expressed his nostalgia for a bygone era.

  • 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.

    View More Works


Fourth of July– Jay, New York

Gelatin silver print, printed 1970s.
12 1/2 x 8 in. (31.8 x 20.3 cm).
Signed and titled ‘YAJ, N.Y.’ [sic] in ink in the margin.

$50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for $92,500


9 April 2011
New York