By Marcy Oster
(JTA) – Robert Frank, a documentary photographer best known for his book The Americans, died Monday, Sept. 16. A resident of Manhattan, he died in Inverness, Nova Scotia, where he had a summer home. He was 94.
Frank grew up in Switzerland during World War II, the son of a Swiss mother and a father who was a Jewish refugee from Germany, and remained safe there. The threat of Nazism, however, affected his understanding of oppression, according to The New York Times.
Frank immigrated to New York at the age of 23 in 1947. He landed a job as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar and later worked for Fortune, Life, Look, McCall’s, Vogue and Ladies Home Journal. His work has been exhibited around the world.
His groundbreaking photos for The Americans, some purposely out of focus and grainy and in poor lighting, were taken during road trips across the United States in the mid-1950s funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship. The book was published in 1959. Some 83 of the black-and-white photos were used in the book, selected from the 28,000 that he had taken.
Frank later became a filmmaker, with his 1972 documentary of the Rolling Stones, “Cocksucker Blues,” the most well-known. The Stones sued to prevent the film’s release, with a court ultimately restricting the film to being shown no more than five times per year and only in the presence of Frank.
He was a lifelong friend of Beat poet Allen Ginsburg and writer Jack Kerouac.
His daughter Andrea was killed in a plane crash in 1974 and his son, Pablo, diagnosed with schizophrenia, died in a hospital in 1994. In 1995, he founded the Andrea Frank Foundation, which provides grants to artists.