Robert Frank, "one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, whose visually raw and personally expressive style was pivotal in changing the course of documentary photography," died September 9, the New York Times reported. He was 94. Frank "was best known for his groundbreaking book, The Americans, a masterwork of black and white photographs drawn from his cross-country road trips in the mid-1950s and published in 1959."
First published in France by Robert Delpire in 1958, Les Americains used Frank's photographs as illustrations for essays, but the U.S. edition let the pictures tell their own story, without text, as Frank had conceived the book.
Featuring an introduction by Jack Kerouac for the U.S. edition, The Americans "challenged the presiding midcentury formula for photojournalism, defined by sharp, well-lighted, classically composed pictures, whether of the battlefront, the homespun American heartland or movie stars at leisure. Mr. Frank's photographs--of lone individuals, teenage couples, groups at funerals and odd spoors of cultural life--were cinematic, immediate, off-kilter and grainy, like early television transmissions of the period. They would secure his place in photography's pantheon," the Times wrote.
In his intro, Kerouac observed: "That crazy feeling in America, when the sun is hot and music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral, that's what Robert Frank has captured in tremendous photographs taken as he traveled on the road around practically forty-eight states in an old used car (on Guggenheim Fellowship) and with agility, mystery, genius, sadness, and strange secrecy of a shadow photographed scenes that have never been seen before on film."
Writing in 2004 about how much he admired Frank's book The Lines of My Hand (1972), musician Lou Reed noted: "To wish for the crazy times one last time and freeze it in the memory of a camera is the least a great artist can do. Robert Frank is a great democrat. We're all in these photos. Paint dripping from a mirror like blood. I’m sick of goodbyes. And aren’t we all, but it’s nice to see it said."
"The kind of photography I did is gone. It's old," Frank told the Guardian in 2004. "There's no point in it any more for me, and I get no satisfaction from trying to do it. There are too many pictures now. It's overwhelming."