Published: December 30, 2008
The 50th anniversary of a groundbreaking publication will be celebrated in the nation’s capital with the exhibition “Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans ,” premiering January 18 in the National Gallery of Art’s West Building ground floor galleries. It will remain on view to April 26
In 1955 and 1956, the Swiss-born American photographer Robert Frank (b 1924) traveled across the United States to photograph, as he wrote, “the kind of civilization born here and spreading elsewhere.”
The result of his journey was The Americans , a book that looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a culture on the brink of massive social upheaval and one that changed the course of Twentieth Century photography.
First published in France in 1958 and in the United States in 1959, The Americans remains the single most important book of photographs published since World War II. The exhibition will examine both Frank’s process in creating the photographs and the book by presenting 150 photographs, including all of the images from The Americans , as well as 17 books, 15 manuscripts and 28 contact sheets. In honor of the exhibition, Frank has created a film and participated in selecting and assembling three large collages. The exhibition will travel to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art May 17⁁ugust 23, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art September 22⁄ecember 27.
The exhibition will be organized into four sections. The first section will examine the roots of The Americans, not only in Frank’s earlier handmade books, including 40 Fotos , 1946, Peru , 1949, and Black White and Things , 1952, but also in other sequences of photographs he made at this time, such as People You Don’t See , (952. It will also present books by his contemporaries, such as Bill Brandt, Alexey Brodovitch and Jakob Tuggener, whose ideas influenced the young photographer.
The second section will display Frank’s original application to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, along with his vintage contact sheets, letters to photographer Walker Evans and author Jack Kerouac, and two manuscript versions of Kerouac’s introduction to the book. Three collages with a total of more than 115 rough work prints reveal the themes Frank wanted his book to explore †racism, politics, consumer culture, cars, families and the way Americans lived, worked and played †as well as his preliminary selection of images. The work prints were made in 1956 and 1957, and the collages were assembled under the artist’s supervision in 2007 and 2008.
The third section features all 83 photographs from The Americans , often in rarely exhibited vintage prints, and in the sequence that Frank established. The fourth section addresses the impact The Americans had on Frank’s subsequent career, screening a 2008 film made by the artist especially for this exhibition and presenting later still photographs.
The National Gallery of Art is on the National Mall between 3rd and 9th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW. For information, 202-737-4215 or www.nga.gov .
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm