October 29–December 5, 2009
32 East 57th Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY
Pace/MacGill Gallery is pleased to present Robert Frank, a selection of gelatin silver prints, contact sheet enlargements, and Polaroids spanning nearly five decades of Frank's photographic career. The exhibition explores Frank's desire to create what he deemed "a more sustained form of expression" by rejecting the single, static image and embracing the narrative potential of photographic sequences.
Considered one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century, Frank deeply understood the power of adjacent images and redefined the medium through this method of presentation. As Sarah Greenough observes in Robert Frank: Moving Out (National Gallery of Art, 1994):
Frank's understanding of the potential of a tightly orchestrated sequence of photographs to collapse or even to subvert time, to present multiple and layered meanings, to elicit numerous and often conflicting emotional responses, and to recreate experience rather than merely describe it has resulted in some of the most passionate and universal expressions the medium has ever produced.
Frank's best known sequence is The Americans, a seminal suite of 83 photographs taken during a cross-country road trip in 1955-56. Each image is visually striking individually. However, when considered collectively the photographs present a penetrating portrait of American life. Throughout the series Frank frequently incorporated frames within the image frame itself. For example, in Trolley - New Orleans the grid of windows above the car's passengers reflects their passing views. Over a decade after its publication, Frank enhanced the cinematic quality of The Americans by printing enlarged contact sheets of his negative strips. Read from left to right, the contact sheets emphasize the sequential nature of Frank's project by referencing the continuity of film and allowing the viewer to experience the America Frank saw in an unedited fashion.
In late 1957-1958, Frank took a series of photographs from the window of a bus moving through New York City streets. Shot in succession, the images present an extended visual exploration of New York and its inhabitants viewed solely through a window frame. Frank explained, "I like to see them one after the other. It's a ride bye and not a flashy backy." Exhibited in "Photographs by Harry Callahan and Robert Frank" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1962, the pictures rely entirely upon chance. The images of men and women caught in motion often resemble film stills. The cinematic nature of the series was not coincidental; Frank would later designate the bus pictures his last photographic project and abandon still photography in favor of the filmic medium for nearly 10 years.
Following a decade of filmmaking, Frank returned to photography with a renewed interest in complex sequential constructions, and often incorporated Polaroids and handwritten text into his work. Both Boston, March 20, 1985 (1985) and Tools - For my Mother and for W.E. (1999-2000) lack a clear linear progression and require the viewer to move through multiple images in order to decipher their meaning. Frank employed a similar montage strategy in 1988 when he and fellow photographers William Christenberry, Bruce Davidson, Duane Michals, and Gordon Parks participated in a documentary project on the occasion of The Birmingham News' hundredth anniversary. For "Birmingham 1988: The Birmingham News Centennial Photographic Collection," Frank created groupings of photographs that capture the daily lives of Birmingham's inhabitants and the spirit of the city as Frank saw it.
Robert Frank (b. 1924, Zurich) is the recipient of numerous honors, including two Guggenheim Fellowships (1955, 1956); an American Film Institute grant (1970-71); the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie Erich Salomon Prize (1985); the Friends of Photography Peer Award for a Distinguished Career in Photography (1987); the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography (1996); the International Center of Photography Cornell Capa Infinity Award (2000); an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Göteborg (1999); and the Edward MacDowell Medal (2002).
Since 1950, Frank's photography and films have been the subject of exhibitions worldwide. Recent exhibitions include "Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans," originating at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and traveling to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. His work can be found in both domestic and international museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland; Maison Européene de la Photographie, Paris; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Tate Modern, London; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Monographs of Frank's work include: The Americans (1958, 1959); New York to Nova Scotia (1986); Lines of My Hand(1989); Black White and Things (1993); Moving Out (1994); Thank You (1996); Flamingo (1996); HOLD STILL . . . Keep Going (2001); Frank Films: the film and video work of robert frank (2003); London/Wales (2003); Storylines (2004); and Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans (2009).