In 1955—with Walker Evans’ 1930s snapshots of Americana fresh in mind—
climbed behind the wheel of a Ford Business Coupe to embark on a two-year road trip across the major cities of the United States, and every back road in between. After sorting through his haul—27,000 photographs from some 760 rolls of film—Frank published a book of 83 black-and-white images that gave Americans an unsolicited glimpse at the realities of postwar life, one filled with racism, isolation, consumption, and decay. Poignant, uncensored, and ill-received, The Americans
became perhaps the most seminal work of 20th-century image making—one that forever altered the way Americans looked at themselves and photographers looked at their subjects. With the inimitable Robert Frank in mind, here are five American documentary photographers we think you might love, too:
“Robert Frank is the reason I make photographs,” the photographer, who is now recognized as an early advocate of color photographs as a form of “high” art, once said
was one of the most influential American photographers of the 20th century, known for his documentation of the Great Depression—and specifically, one of the largest artistic influences to Robert Frank (a then budding photographer and friend Evans looked on to with pride): “Assuredly the gods who sent Robert Frank, so heavily armed, across the United States did so with a certain smile,” he once said
was one of the defining masters of early American modernist photography. Strand was introduced to photography by the renowned social documentarian Lewis Hine, who instilled in him an understanding of the photograph as a powerful tool that should be used for the betterment of humanity.
was a prolific magazine photographer in New York at the turn of the 20th century. He was part of a generation that took advantage of new camera technologies, including faster speeds and more portable equipment, which lent his work a spontaneous energy and allowed him to depart from traditional ideas of composition, content, and style.
: Explore Americana on Artsy.
Influenced by Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson’s documentary photographs have been a celebrated and powerful depiction of the social climate of the United States. Davidson produced a shocking study of the poverty and discrimination on a block in Harlem, followed by an investigation of the urban underground in Subway
(1980-85), another delicately captured essay on a particular American subculture.