Phillips: Photographs

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Robert Frank, ‘US 285, New Mexico’, 1956-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).

In his application for the Guggenheim Fellowship, Frank declared his intention “to photograph freely throughout the United States, using the miniature camera exclusively. The making of a broad, voluminous picture record of things American, past and present. This project is essentially the visual study of a civilization and will include caption notes; but it is only partly documentary in nature: one of its aims is more artistic than the word documentary implies.” This “more artistic” documentary approach presents itself in US 285, New Mexico, 1956. A deep, dark image of the open road, Frank actually photographed US 285 in the daytime and then underexposed the negative, giving the impression of nighttime’s dramatic obscurity using the filmmaking technique known as ‘day for night.’ The power of this effect, Frank’s artistic vision and uncommon understanding of the American landscape was not lost on Walker Evans, one of his earliest supporters of The Americans, who remarked on this image: “In this picture, instantly you find the continent. The whole page is haunted with American scale and space.”
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: Signed, titled and dated '1955' [sic] in ink in the margin.

The Americans, no. 36
Greenough, Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans, pp. 253, 469, 470, Contact no. 36
Frank, The Lines of My Hand, n.p.
'The Highway: Four Photographs by Robert Frank,' Current, November 1960, p. 33
U. S. Camera, 1958, p. 100

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