Robert Frank - PHOTOGRAPHS New York Friday, October 8, 2010 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Andrew Smith Gallery, Santa Fe

  • Literature

    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; Grove Press, The Americans, pl. 18; High Museum of Art, Photographs from the Sir Elton John Collection, p. 89; 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, p. 196; Papageorge, Walker Evans and Robert Frank, An Essay on Influence, p. 41; Scalo, The Americans, cover and p. 45; The Museum of Modern Art, Walker Evans & Company, pl. 137

  • Catalogue Essay

    Upon receiving the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1955, Robert Frank travelled extensively across the U.S. with the intention of observing and recording the infrastructure upholding American society. It is not surprising that the subject matter would have been of interest to Frank, himself a Swiss immigrant who had globe-trotted for a number of years prior to settling in America. One could argue, therefore, that the cross-country trip upon which Frank was intent on embarking was as much to quench his own desire to understand his newly found home as much as to inform his viewers of the social diversity they may not have been as eager (or able) to explore otherwise. The resulting images, Frank wrote in his Guggenheim application, “should be such as will nullify explanation.” Perhaps it was for being a foreigner that he aimed to produce didactic images that avoided ambiguous, whimsical interpretations, and favored clear and forthright depictions.At the time that Frank began his endeavor, America was steeped in McCarthyism. It was an ideology that Frank, himself a New York-based Jewish immigrant of simple means, became victim of, but one which ironically intensified his understanding of the underlying social bias. On November 7, 1955, Frank was arrested, questioned, threatened, humiliated, jailed and branded “criminal” in McGehee, Arkansas after being stopped by the Police. While his crime went unexplained, the search for Communist-sympathizers was repeatedly explained. Of the incident, Frank has noted that it served to heighten his “compassion for the people on the street,” one that he unassumingly but lucidly translated into his compilation The Americans. Trolley—New Orleans, unequivocally among the strongest images not only within the compilation but Frank’s vast career, was taken within days of the aforementioned incident. After arriving shortly in New Orleans, Frank, fascinated by the vivacious hustle-and-bustle of the city, observed an ongoing parade. Compelled by nothing but whim, Frank suddenly turned his back on the staged spectacle only to behold and capture the image of a trolley slicing through the French Quarter and inadvertently exposing the hierarchical cross-section of American racial demographic. The grid proffered by the trolley’s structure neatly if eerily delineated the segregation enforcement of the era, with five windows showcasing the breakdown in race, gender and age group: white male, white female, white children, African-American male, African-American female. With the exception of the latter, all appear to make direct eye-contact with photographer, and consequently, with the viewers, mustering an accordingly wide array of reactions, from stern confrontation to melancholic pleading.Trolley—New Orleans is far more than a portrait of New Orleans or even the Deep South for that matter, but one of an era typified by paranoia and calamitous inequality. The poignancy of the image is intensified by its chronological juncture with the Montgomery Bus Boycott less than a month later and the subsequent sparking of the Civil Rights Movement. For Frank to have captured the racial breakdown so delicately and simply, moments before the structure that held it together collapsed, attests to the balance of foresight and insight, in seeing and envisioning, that Frank so dutifully employed.

  • 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, mounted, printed 1970s.
12 1/8 x 18 3/4 in. (30.8 x 47.6 cm).
Signed, titled 'New Orleans' and dated in ink in the margin.

$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $158,500


8 October 2010
New York