Robert Frank Biography

Robert Frank is a photographer and filmmaker: independent, unconventional and personal in both media, Frank is best known for his work in photography-arguably his book The Americans is the most influential book of photographs of the past fifty years with nine separate editions not counting foreign--however, Frank has played the outsider throughout his career.

Born in Switzerland in 1924, Frank grew up the son of a wealthy Jewish family with a Swiss mother and a German father; he turned to photography for expression as well as a way to escape the pressures of his business-oriented family. Living in Europe during the Second World War-while although safe in Switzerland-impacted Frank and affected his understanding of oppression which is later seen in his work.

In Zurich Frank was apprenticed to Hermann Segesser as a commercial photographer. He became adept at studio portraiture and landscapes, however, Frank did not attend a photography or film school.

Frank emigrated to America in 1947; bringing with him his published book 40 fotos, he got a job with Alexey Brodovitch; the art director for Harper's Bazaar and worked for them as a fashion photographer until 1952. Frank took many irregular trips to Europe where he photographed in Paris, Spain, Wales and London, in addition to Central and South America. In 1950 Frank married artist Mary Lockspeiser and participated in the group show curated by Edward Steichen 51 American Photographers at the Museum of Modern Art.

With support from Brodovitch, Steichen and Walker Evans, Frank applied for the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation grant in autumn of 1954. He was approved in April of 1955 and was renewed one year later. From 1955-1956 Frank went across the US-his ambition ̉to produce an authentic contemporary document; the visual impact should be such as will nullify explanationÓ-with his wife and their two children, Pablo and Andrea. He took about 28,000 photos in 43 states, 83 frames of which became the book The Americans published in [America] 1959 by Grove Press.

From late 1957 to late 1963 Frank worked with the promotion department at the New York Times as a [freelance] photojournalist. In 1963 Frank was Awarded U.S. Citizenship. Frank started making films in 1958, his first film; Pull My Daisy is a semi-improvisational work about bohemian culture and art and is the film Frank is most identified by. His films dealt with life, people and introspection into oneself.

Frank and his wife separated in 1969 and by 1972 Frank had moved to Mabou in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia with his second wife, painter, June Leaf. Just as Frank had started to document his family his son Pablo was diagnosed with schizophrenia and his daughter Andrea died in a plane crash [in 1974] at 21 years old. Much of Frank's subsequent work dealt with these hardships. In 1995 Frank founded the Andrea Frank Foundation which supports artists with grants. His work remains mainly autobiographical films and photographs, experimenting with the use of color and collage. He divides his time between Nova Scotia and New York.


Panzer, Mary. "Robert Frank: Moving Out by Sarah Greenough." Archives of American Art Journal 33.4 (1993): 22-24. The Smithsonian Institution. Web. 14 Oct. 2010.

Lane, A. (2009, September 14). Road Show The journey of Robert Frank's "The Americans." New Yorker, Retrieved September 26, 2010, from

Papageorge, T. (1981). Walker Evans and Robert Frank, an essay on influence. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery.

Sante, L. (2009, September 18). Seeing beauty in our shadows Robert Frank's 'The Americans,' unpopular when first published, has shaped the way America looks at itself. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 26, 2010, from

--Marina Coddaire, 2010.

Robert Frank