The photographer to Penn Katz Associates, Robert Frank Collection, New York, 1978
Edwynn Houk Gallery, Chicago, 1987
Acquired by the Quillan Company from the above, 1989
Jill Quasha, The Quillan Collection of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Photographs (New York, 1991), pl. 24 (this print)
Other prints of this image:
Robert Frank, The Americans (New York, 1958), p. 102
Robert Frank (Aperture, 1976), p. 69
Sarah Greenough and Philip Brookman, Robert Frank: Moving Out (Washington, D. C.: National Gallery of Art, 1994, in conjunction with the exhibition), p. 200
This print of Robert Frank's Mississippi River, unusual in this large size, is from the photographer's seminal series, The Americans. Shot while traveling cross-country between 1955 and 1957 on a Guggenheim Fellowship, the images comprise Frank's often cynical view of 1950s America. Swiss by birth, Frank noted in his grant application, 'It is fair to assume that when an observant American travels abroad his eye will see freshly; and that the reverse may be true when a European eye looks at the United States' (as quoted in American Photography, p. 82). The resulting book was first published in France as Les Américains in 1958, and the following year in the United States as The Americans. Frank's 'fresh' look at America was met with harsh criticism and poor sales. Since that time, however, it has become one of the most important and influential photography books of the postwar period.
In the years since their publication, the individual images that make up The Americans have been conferred iconic status. Each image speaks to Frank's vision of a multifaceted 1950s America, full of contradictions. From parties and political rallies to funerals and roadside memorials, Frank shows us America in all of its social, political, religious, and racial complexities. Equally a symbol of hope and despair, the present photograph depicts a black man in white robes with Bible and staff in hand, kneeling in prayer, on the debris-littered banks of the Mississippi River.
Frank's work had an enormous impact on a generation of photographers--Diane Arbus (Lot 36), Lee Friedlander (Lot 37), and Garry Winogrand (Lot 29) among them--whose work, like Frank's, would be subjective rather than objective, and largely shot on the street with hand-held cameras.
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