Looking In: Robert Frank's "The Americans"

May 16-August 23, 2009

Robert Frank's The Americans is widely celebrated as the most important photography book since World War II. Including 83 photographs made largely in 1955 and 1956 while Frank traveled around the United States, the book looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a profound sense of alienation, angst, and loneliness. With these prophetic photographs, Frank redefined the icons of America, noting that cars, jukeboxes, gas stations, diners, and even the road itself were telling symbols of contemporary life. Frank's style — seemingly loose, casual compositions, with often rough, blurred, out-of-focus foregrounds and tilted horizons — was just as controversial and influential as his subject matter. The exhibition celebrates the 50th anniversary of the book's publication by presenting all 83 photographs from The Americans in the order established by the book, and by providing a detailed examination of the book's roots in Frank's earlier work, its construction, and its impact on his later art.

Looking In: Robert Frank's "The Americans" is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

The San Francisco presentation is made possible by generous support from the Bernard and Barbro Osher Exhibition Fund and Bob and Randi Fisher. Additional support provided by Lisa and John Pritzker.

  • Robert Frank, photo of two people in windows with american flag
    Robert Frank, ParadeHoboken, New Jersey, 1955; gelatin silver print; Private collection, San Francisco; Robert Frank
  • Robert Frank, photograph of people in trolley windows
    Robert Frank, TrolleyNew Orleans, 1955; gelatin silver print; Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005; Robert Frank
  • Robert Frank, photograph of man holding tuba and american flag
    Robert Frank, Political RallyChicago, 1956; gelatin silver print; Collection Betsy Karel; Robert Frank
  • Robert Frank, man and woman sitting in park above san francisco skyline
    Robert Frank, San Francisco, 1956; gelatin silver print; Private collection, San Francisco; Robert Frank
  • Robert Frank, woman leaning against elevator door with two blurry figures
    Robert Frank, ElevatorMiami Beach, 1955; gelatin silver print; Collection Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased with funds contributed by Dorothy Norman, 1969; Robert Frank