Frank dies

Robert Frank whose book ‘The Americans‘ shook up photography when published in 1958 (and 1959 in the USA) died Monday, 9th November 2019. Born on 9 November 1924 in Z├╝rich, Switzerland, he was 94. Frank was clearly one of the truly great photographers of the 20th century.

Studying that book changed photography for many of us, though many like me came to it rather late, though not long after I took up photography in the 1970s. As well as the direct influence there was also the work of a whole generation of photographers that were influenced by it, notably for me Friedlander and Winogrand. If you are a photographer you will probably already own a well-thumbed copy of ‘The Americans‘; if not, rush out and buy one.

In his Vanity Fair article written in 2008 about Frank’s visit to China, Charlie Leduff decribed the book as “his artistic albatross of sorts” and for many of us it stood head and shoulders above his earlier and later work.  It seemed to be a definitive statement that left him little or nothing to say.

Frank went on to make a number of films, of which the best known and almost certainly least seen is the 1969-1972 ‘Cocksucker Blues‘ of the Rolling Stones, never commercially released but which you can watch on YouTube. It’s a remarkably intimate film which epitomises sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and was rather too extreme for the image that the Stones wanted to make public. The sound track includes some great music but much of the speech is for various reasons unclear and if you are not a fan of the music and the musicians the film is difficult to watch other than as a document of that particular age and time.

Some of his other films are more conventional, and perhaps for that reason less interesting. Again for fans of the beats, ‘Pull My Daisy‘ (1959) is required viewing. Directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie and adapted by Jack Kerouac from an act of his play Beat Generation, it has an improvised narration by Kerouac and among others stars Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, Larry Rivers, Alice Neel and David Amram.

Perhaps the best of the obits I’ve so far read is unsurprisingly in the New York Times, but The Guardian is also worth reading, and there a brief note on the BBC web page, and many more.

There are many obituaries of Robert Frank, and I don’t intend to write another, though I’ve previously written about him and his work at some length, though these pieces are not currently available on the web. Since this is no longer available, I’ll revise and post it, or at least some of the more interesting parts of it over the next few days.

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