Dissecting the mysterious Robert Frank (b. 1924).
In his erudite new biography, Smith (The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, 2012, etc.) explains that Frank is the type to quickly walk out the back door at an event to avoid interviews and send critics and fans running. Though this eccentric character may seem like a perfect New York City creation, he started his life in Zurich in the 1920s. It wasn’t until 1947, after living through the atrocities of the war and the inescapable solitude his Jewish religion instilled, that Frank came to the United States. He arrived at the height of the postwar bloom in creative productions of all types. But for a man like Frank, New York was just a temporary appeaser to his overflowing curiosity. He went off to Europe and South America to explore the range of images he could produce with limited resources. “I’m always looking outside, trying to look inside,” he once said. “Trying to tell something that’s true. But maybe nothing is really true—except what’s out there, and what’s out there is always different.” Through it all, though, New York remained Frank’s muse. Encountering artists such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Jonas Mekas, Frank eventually took to the camera to explore the moving image. In parallel, he was also working on his opus, The Americans (1958), which, though viewed today as a foundational work in defining an American identity during the postwar era, was met with significant criticism. Smith compellingly tells the story of one of the most iconic and notoriously aloof artists of the 20th century in a way that is neither dry nor contrived; he helps us to know a seemingly unknowable artist.
Sprinkled with subtle touches of poetic discourse and the author’s deeply felt passion and admiration for Frank’s work, this book is a page-turning emotional delight.