Robert Frank's "Charleston, South Carolina" (1955), on display at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco in 2009.
One of the most influential of photographers, Robert Frank (1924-2019) helped define a style of street photography that eschewed classical portraiture and instead created intimate, moody portraits of an America struggling to define itself in a post-war world. His black-and-white photographs, and later underground films, were a democratic portfolio of a country racked by economic disparity and divisions of race and class. Above all, Frank's art showed a determination to capture on film people and places often ignored.
"Central Park South"
"Central Park South" (1948) by Robert Frank.
Born in Zurich, Switzerland on November 9, 1924, Robert Frank apprenticed for the photographers Hemann Segesser, Michael Wolgensinger and Victor Bouverat. After the war, in 1947, he emigrated to New York City, where he worked as a photographer for Harper's Bazaar, and contributed to such publications as Life and Camera.
From Robert Frank's 1948 monograph, "Peru."
"People You Don't See"
In his 1951 series "People You Don't See," Frank documented the daily lives of six people on his lower Manhattan block (representing the city's six million inhabitants). One such subject was Connie Damiani, who worked at the Plymouth Toy Company.
This photo was titled: "After lunch, Connie jokes with other workers outside the factory."
"London" (1952) by Robert Frank.
"Wales, Ben James"
"Wales, Ben James" (1953), part of Robert Frank's depiction of the life of miners in Caerau, Wales.
"Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey"
"Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey" (1955) by Robert Frank.
As a Guggenheim Fellow, in 1955 Frank began a two-year journey across the continental United States, taking 28,000 pictures. A selection of 83 images was published in 1958 as "The Americans."
"Miami Hotel" (1955) by Robert Frank.
"The Americans" was a landmark in documentary photography, focusing on subjects rarely captured by magazine or commercial photographers, from the clash of high- and low-class and people operating on the edges of celebrity, to laborers, the disenfranchised, and the isolation that exists in both crowded cities and lonely rural landscapes.
"View From Hotel Window – Butte, Montana"
"View From Hotel Window - Butte, Montana" (1956).
While some criticized Frank's images as being derogatory towards their subjects, or just downright sloppy, his work came to be revered for expertly capturing the moods of a variety of urban and rural environments. By messing around with exposure, focus, shadows and cropping instead of aiming for sharpness and brilliant lighting, he created some haunting vistas, and portraits of characters that spoke of an American Dream that was hard-fought or inaccessible. This was not an America bathed in post-war optimism or nostalgia; it was a land of suffering, often quiet or overlooked.
"San Francisco" (1956) by Robert Frank.
An example of Frank's unorthodox framing that captured a spontaneity in his subjects - and in the photographer.
In 2015 Frank told The New York Times, "Photography can reveal so much. It's the invasion of the privacy of the people. … Often I had uncomfortable moments. Nobody gave me a hard time, because I had a talent for not being noticed."
"Trolley - New Orleans"
"Trolley - New Orleans" (1955) by Robert Frank.
As he and his camera traveled the country, Frank's pictures confronted Americans' unease with social stigmas, Jim Crow racism, and people who were disadvantaged, lost or forgotten.
New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl called "The Americans" ''one of the basic American masterpieces of any medium."
One of Robert Frank's contact sheets which produced the "Trolley" image for "The Americans."
"Democratic National Convention, Chicago"
"Democratic National Convention, Chicago" (1956) by Robert Frank.
"Pull My Daisy"
Frank's unorthodox subjects and framing endeared him to the Beat poets and artists of the day, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. He collaborated with them on a short experimental film, "Pull My Daisy" (1959), a humorous, improvisational tale of avant-garde artists crashing a party, written and narrated by Kerouac.
In 1996 the Library of Congress inducted "Pull My Daisy" to its National Film Registry.
The Rolling Stones
Frank filmed a cinema verite-style documentary about the Rolling Stones' 1972 American tour, with an unprintable title ("C********r Blues"). The band objected to just how much Frank revealed in the film about the group members' drug use and blocked its release. In a court settlement they agreed to limited screenings, but the film has never had general distribution, adding to its notoriety.
"Sick of Goodby's"
"Sick of Goodby's" (1978) by Robert Frank.
His prints and films have been the subject of exhibitions around the world, from New York City, Washington, D.C., Long Beach, Calif., and Houston, to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Germany, Valencia, Spain, Yokohama, Japan, and Zurich.
"Blind, Love, Faith"
"Blind, Love, Faith" (1981).
In addition to "The Americans," Frank's images were published in several other monographs, including "New York to Nova Scotia," "Lines of My Hand," "Black White and Things," "Moving Out," "Thank You," "HOLD STILL … Keep Going," and "London/Wales."
Photographer-filmmaker Robert Frank, with his collaborator and publisher Gerhard Steidl, pause to consider a question from the audience at the opening of the exhibition, "Robert Frank: Books and Films, 1947-2016," at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts Jan. 28, 2016, in New York.
"New York City, 7 Bleecker Street"
"New York City, 7 Bleecker Street" (September 1993).
Frank died September 9, 2019. He was 94.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan