Phillips: Photographs

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Robert Frank, ‘Trolley, New Orleans’, 1955-printed circa 1986, Phillips
Robert Frank, ‘Trolley, New Orleans’, 1955-printed circa 1986, Phillips

Photographs from a Private Collection, New York

From the Catalogue:
Robert Frank traveled the United States, capturing the parade of characters, hierarchies and societal imbalances of the great American social landscape. Frank embarked on his project documenting America after becoming the first European to be awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. The application that outlined his intentions for the project included written references from the renowned American photographers Walker Evans and Edward Steichen. Of his 27,000 pictures taken during this time, Frank selected an iconic sequence of 83 images that appears in every edition of his famed book, The Americans.

One of the most significant photobooks in the history of photography, The Americans has been released in numerous editions and languages since its initial publication in 1958. In 1986, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, sought to acquire 27 prints from this important series for their permanent collection. In order to raise the funds necessary for such a sizable and significant acquisition, The Met's Department of Photographs approached a small group of donors for assistance. Robert Frank, pleased at the prospect of The Met's acquisition, offered, through Pace/MacGill Gallery, three prints from The Americans to be printed as a gift for each donor. The following three lots on offer here come directly from one of the private collectors whose generous support helped make The Met's 1986 Robert Frank acquisition possible.

Collectively, The Met patrons selected three of Frank's most significant and sought-after images: Trolley, New Orleans, 1955 (lot 268), Chicago-Political Rally, 1956 (lot 269), and US 285, New Mexico, 1956 (lot 270). The Americans’ emblematic cover image, Trolley, New Orleans, 1955 is a photographic masterwork. Frank’s intricate composition captures the realities of segregation in the American South within the trolley’s steely geometric frame. The Swiss-born Frank later remarked on the effect of witnessing the systematic racial injustice in 1950s America: “My attitude changed when I saw the South for the first time. That was the strongest and most unforgettable impression. The injustice to people who have another skin color.”
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: Signed, titled and dated in ink in the margin. Accompanied by a signed copy of The Americans (Pantheon Books, 1986).

The Americans, cover, no. 18
Greenough, Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans, pp. 6-7, 232, 466, Contact no. 18
Frank, Robert Frank, pl. 34
Greenough and Brookman, Robert Frank: Moving Out, pp. 172 (contact sheet) and 196
Aperture, The Open Road: Photography & The American Road Trip, p. 43
Dexter and Weski, Cruel and Tender: The Real in the 20th Century Photograph, p. 109
Galassi, Walker Evans & Company, pl. 137
Greenough, Snyder, Travis and Westerbeck, On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography, p. 357
High Museum of Art, Chorus of Light: Photographs from the Sir Elton John Collection, p. 89
Papageorge, Walker Evans and Robert Frank, An Essay on Influence, p. 41
U. S. Camera, 1958, pp. 106-107
'Robert Frank,' Aperture, 1961, p. 9

Gift of the artist to the present owner, 1989

About Robert Frank

One of the most acclaimed photographers of the 20th century, Robert Frank is best known for his seminal book The Americans, featuring photographs taken by the artist in the mid-1950s as he traveled across the U.S. on a Guggenheim fellowship. These photographs feature glimpses of highways, cars, parades, jukeboxes, and diners as iconic symbols of America while simultaneously suggesting an underlying sense of alienation and hardship. Frank’s loose, casual approach often generated blurred imagery and tilted horizons, causing his photographic style to be as controversial as his subject matter. In the 1950s, Frank was a regular contributor to Harper’s Bazaar, but later turned his focus from still images to filmmaking, creating classics of American subculture such as Pull My Daisy (1959).

American, b. 1924, Zurich, Switzerland