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Collection Spotlight

Robert Frank, Funeral—St. Helena, South Carolina

Robert Frank
Funeral—St. Helena, South Carolina, from The Americans, neg. 1955-56, prints c. 1981
gelatin silver print
museum purchase

First published in France in 1958, then in the United States in 1959 at the height of the cold war, Robert Frank’s The Americans, is one of the most important and influential photography books of the twentieth century. The Addison is one of only three American museums to own a complete set of these compelling images.

In 1955-56, a Guggenheim Fellowship allowed Frank, a Swiss-born photographer, to travel throughout the United States with the goal of creating a book of photographs that he described as a “visual study of a civilization.” An outsider looking in, Frank’s dark and grainy photographs reveal his ambivalence toward his new country. Edited down from thousands, the eighty-three carefully sequenced photographs are a raw and insightful documentation of a country in transition, both celebrating its strengths and exposing the cracks in the veneer of hope and optimism that defined postwar culture. As Jack Kerouac wrote in the introduction to the book, “Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand, he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film.”

Author: Allison Kemmerer, Curator of Photography and Contemporary Art

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[Image shown: Funeral—St. Helena, South Carolina, 1989.77.4, ©Robert Frank]