Robert Frank - Photographs New York Wednesday, April 6, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "Most of my photographs are of people; they are seen simply, as through the eyes of the man on 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." —Robert Frank

    The large exhibition-size photograph presented here was acquired from Robert Frank by the young photographer Donald Donaghy in the early 1960s. At that time, Frank was engaged in preparing prints for his 1962 joint exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, Photographs by Harry Callahan and Robert Frank. The checklist for this exhibition shows a number of prints by both photographers annotated ‘E’ for enlargement, including Canal Street—New Orleans. These enlargements were made by the premiere photographic printing lab Compo, and the Museum’s installation shots of the exhibition show a large print of Canal Street dominating one wall of the exhibition, roughly the same size as the print offered here. It is likely that this impressive print was made in conjunction with this 1962 exhibition.


    Photographer and filmmaker Harold Becker acquired this photograph from Donaghy early on. In a letter that accompanies this photograph he writes: “In 1964, I was a professional photographer in New York. I was at that time working on a documentary about the Civil Rights movement, Ivanhoe Donaldson, released in that year. I hired a brilliant young photographer, Don Donaghy to do some second unit work for me on the film. Don was friends with Robert Frank. When Frank was moving out of his studio on East 11th Street he gave Don some large prints. Don sold a few of them to me, including the large print of Canal Street--New Orleans. I have owned the print ever since.” 

    Another large-format Frank photograph, Charity Ball, New York City (Americans no. 67), with the same Frank/Donaghy/Becker chain of provenance was sold at Sotheby’s, New York, in April 2014. Don Donaghy (1936-2008) studied photography at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art. His work was featured in the 1962 exhibition, Two Young Photographers: Don Donaghy and George Krause. Most notably, Donaghy’s photographs were showcased in Jane Livingston’s formative book The New York School: Photographs 1936-1963 alongside those of Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, William Klein and a select group of others.

    In her definitive book Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, National Gallery of Art curator and Frank authority Sarah Greenough places Canal Street--New Orleans among the three most compelling images in The Americans, along with Trolley--New Orleans and Mississippi River, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Americans nos. 18 and 47). Shot on the same street and within minutes of Trolley, Canal Street was made with ‘scalpel-like incision’ according to Greenough. She writes: “In a shallow frieze-like band, Frank presented not a grand procession of ancient Greeks, but the sharp profiles of more than a dozen average Americans—young and old, black and white, fat and skinny, erect and stooped—set against the obscured faces and bodies of several more. The people depicted are in dense proximity, as if they must weave around one another and even touch . . . Quietly and soberly alluding to the distinctly American nature of this scene, the striped pattern of a building across the street is reflected in the windows of the store behind the crowd, subtly echoing the bands of a flag.”


    Exhibition installation view, Harry Callahan and Robert Frank, The Museum of Modern Art, 1962
    • Provenance

      The artist to photographer Don Donaghy
      Collection of photographer and filmmaker Harold Becker, 1964

    • Literature

      The Americans, no. 19
      Greenough, Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, p. 233, Contact no. 18/19
      Galassi, Robert Frank: In America, p. 66

    • 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


Canal Street, New Orleans

Gelatin silver print, printed early 1960s, mounted.
23 1/2 x 36 in. (59.7 x 91.4 cm)

Full Cataloguing

$40,000 - 60,000 

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 6 April 2022