Robert Frank was born in 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland; his parents were Jewish. He was part of a European generation most of whom fought in the Second World War, but Switzerland remained neutral, while across the border Jews were being killed by the million.
The German-speaking area of Switzerland was dominated by Nazis and Frank grew up with a constant knowledge of the possibility of persecution, but in Switzerland, freedom of speech and the freedom to create remained. There was even something of a flowering of German culture in Switzerland during the war years.
Frank apparently learnt photography from a photographer who lived in the same block of flats as his family, Hermann Segesser.
Frank and Wolgensinger
In 1942, at the age of 18, he was apprenticed to Hermann Eidenbenz(1902 -?) and later worked for Michael Wolgensinger in Zurich. Wolgensinger (1913-90) had learnt photography from Johannes Meiner in Zurich before attending Bauhaus-trained Hans Finsler’s classes at the Zurich School of Commercial Art.
Finsler was a leading Swiss photographer and teacher, and Wolgensimmer became his assistant from 1935-7. Wolgensimmer taught Frank to use large format cameras and controlled lighting in the studio.
Following this, Frank worked for a short time for a film company in Zurich, Gloria Films.
Wolgensinger also later worked with experimental and commercial film – including ‘Metamorphose ‘ – as well as colour installations.
Frank and Tuggener
The young Frank was impressed by Paul Senn’s pictures of Spanish refugees, as well as by the resolutely Swiss pictures of Jakob Tuggener. Although Tuggener was right wing and conservative in his views, the ‘beatnik’ and bohemian Frank admired both his work and his artistic intransigence.
He compares Tuggener to the famous Swiss national hero, William Tell – Tuggener’s work was Switzerland seen totally without sentimentality.
Frank was also impressed by the way he used his photographs in sequences – particularly in his book of photographs of factories, ‘Fabrik’, using montage techniques borrowed from the world of film.
By 1946, Frank was prowling the streets of Zurich with a 35mm rangefinder camera, developing his own style. He was learning to use the camera in a fluid and intuitive manner, trying to capture his impressions spontaneously rather than to calculate and impose a composition on them.
Frank’s fashion work
As soon as possible, in 1947, Frank left Switzerland and moved to New York. Art director Alexey Brodovitch encouraged Frank to photograph for Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion magazines.
Frank soon found fashion restricting and he also began to contribute to magazines and newspapers, including ‘Life’, ‘Look’, Fortune, McCall’s, and The New York Times.
He started to travel, photographing in South America for a book including work by Swiss photographer Werner Bischof and French photographer Pierre Verger, who devoted more than half of his life to the study, promotion, and practice of Afro-Brazilian culture.
In 1951 Frank came back to Europe, and photographed in mining villages in Wales as well as in London and Paris, producing some memorable work.
Frank’s memorable work
In London too he was drawn to the stereotype, but rendered it in a personal and interesting fashion; men in bowlers and top hats stroll through the fog of city streets, carrying umbrellas. Magritte could well have used some of these as source material.
There are also some odd moments and places – a dog in a foggy street, another levitating in a yard, an angel peering over a wall, mothers (or nannies) struggling with giant wrapped babies and prams in parks, bomb sites …
On a dull rainy day Frank stood beside a black hearse on the pavement of a street of terraced houses, whose doors opened straight onto the pavement. The rear door of the hearse is open wide, its square window producing a frame onto the opposite side of the street, through which we see a street sweeper with a hand-cart. At the end of the empty street a person and a lorry emerge vaguely from the rain, while along the glistening pavement at the left of the picture a young girl and her reflection are caught running.
It is a strange and moving picture; clearly we can see it is about life and death, but to say that is only a starting point.
In Paris he photographed a group of four kids perhaps tormenting a tethered hose in a waste land on the edge of town; in the distance through the slight mist we see the tall apartment blocks, probably of some vast public housing scheme. On the right of the frame the horse, wearing a coat against the cold, stands unmoving, facing mutely a small boy who holds his hands up, palms towards him in some kind of challenge, perhaps 10 feet away, while his friends behind him scurry away.
These are some of his photos:
Here are some contact sheets from his project “The Americans”.
Contact Sheets from The Americans 1955-6; printed 1970s.
PLEASE NOTE: THE IMAGES USED ON THE BIOGRAPHIES SECTION ARE OWN AND COPYRIGHTED BY EACH PHOTOGRAPHER. – NONE OF THESE IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF CRISTINA, AND THEY ARE USED JUST TO ILLUSTRATE EACH BIOGRAPHY. EVERY BIOGRAPHY CONTAINS THE OFFICIAL LINK OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER. ALL VISITORS AND STUDENTS OF PHOTOGRAPHY ARE WELCOME AND ENCOURAGE TO VISIT THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE TO SEE EVEN MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE MASTER OF PHOTOGRAPHY.
ARTWORKS PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT ARE SUPPOSED TO BE USED ONLY FOR CONTEMPLATION. IMAGES OF THAT TYPE OF ARTWORKS ARE PROHIBITED FOR PRINTING, OR ANY KIND OF REPRODUCING AND COMMUNICATING TO PUBLIC SINCE THESE ACTIVITIES MAY BE CONSIDERED COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT. AT ALL POINTS, IT REQUIRES CREDITING THE ARTIST, AND KEEPING COPYRIGHT NOTICES INTACT ON ALL COPIES OF THE WORK. IF YOU ARE A COPYRIGHT OWNER OF THIS ARTWORK, OR HIS/HER LEGAL REPRESENTATIVE, AND YOU DO NOT WANT THIS ARTWORK IN OUR EDUCATION SECTION, PLEASE CONTACT US.
Cristina Photography helps professionals to elevate their brand with creative visual solutions. Cristina Arce is a Toronto personal branding photographer bringing together the worlds of brand development and visual brand communication, helping women entrepreneurs create images that tell their brand story.
Cristina Arce specializes in personal branding photography, headshots, product photography, glamour portraiture, maternity, lifestyle portrait, and boudoir. She is a creative and graphic designer with more than 20 years of experience.
Cristina Photography commonly services the following GTA cities: Toronto, Vaughan, King, Brampton, Caledon, Mississauga, Richmond Hill, and Markham (Ontario, Canada). Once a year, she travels to Costa Rica. Available for worldwide travel.
All of the images contained on this website are the sole property of Cristina Arce (Cristina Photography) and can not be copied, reproduced, or used without written permission. TM: The Cristina Photography logo is owned by Cristina Arce