Robert Frank - Storylines

3 September to 20 November 2005


Robert Frank (born in Zurich in 1924) is one of the most important and influential photographers of our time. His contribution to the understanding, the creative and narrative aspects of photography is virtually incalculable. He is the recipient of numerous prizes including the Hasselblad Award in 1996. In collaboration with the Fotomuseum Winterthur and the Fotostiftung Schweiz, the Tate Modern has compiled a large-scale monographic exhibition on the occasion of his 80th birthday. The exhibition will contain over 250 photographs, as well as films, videos and art books selected especially for this exhibition in co-operation with the artist. Robert Frank - Storylines is dedicated to the essence of this oeuvre, which comprises around 60 years work. It introduces the narrative and serial/sequential aspects of his photography and discusses the outstanding significance of this photographer, filmmaker and visual artist.

After attending school in Zurich and training as a photographer in various Swiss photography studios, he emigrated to New York in 1947. With him he took his first book of photographs, which so impressed the art director of Harper's Bazaar that he offered him a job as a studio photographer. Robert Frank subsequently embarked on travels to South America, Europe and the USA that lasted until the mid-1950s and developed his own inimitable style that had a lasting influence on the language of post-war photography. In 1951 he made a series of portraits of the city of London in a time of great tension between poverty and wealth following World War II. In 1953 he went to Caerau in Wales, where he worked on a photo-story about a mining village, and in particular about the miner Ben James and his family.

Two art books, Peru from 1948 and Black White and Things from 1952, demonstrate his interest in a mixture between realistic portrayal, the narrative potential of photographic sequences, and the visual poetry of everyday life. The exhibition will also contain a series of important photographs from the book Les Américaines (1958) / The Americans (1959), which is probably his most famous and influential picture series.

Other unpublished photographs of his travels in America and pictures of the Ford "River Rouge" car factory near Dearborn (Detroit) will be shown together with pictures of the National Democratic Convention in Chicago (1956), which the client Esquire considered too hard and strong to be published in the same year.

A short photo series photographed through the window of a New York bus and entitled simply From the Bus (1958) marks a decisive step in his development. After this series, Robert Frank declared that he intended to give up photography in favour of film. His first film was Pull My Daisy (1959) with an improvised narration by Jack Kerouac. The narrative and cinematographic quality of his photographs is underlined in the exhibition by the confrontation between his semi-autobiographical films Conversations in Vermont (1969), and Home Improvements (1985). Robert Frank returned to photography in the 1970s, with the emphasis on complex constructions with series and sequences of pictures, Polaroids and hand-written texts, stills from films and videos, rather than on the single picture. Robert Frank's latest pictures, including Memory for the Children (2001-2002), examine the world from the inside to the outside and explore the acts of seeing, feeling and thinking - as well as loss, mourning and the ageing process - in metaphors.

The exhibition, which in its original form was curated by Vicente Todolí, director of the Tate Modern, London, and Philip Brookman, curator at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC, has been expanded in Winterthur to include some of Frank's early photographs taken in Switzerland. A series of photographs documenting the Appenzell Landsgemeinde (assembly of the citizens) in Hundwil (1949) will be shown for the first time.

Main sponsor of the exhibition: Swiss Re

With the valuable support of the Federal Office of Culture, the Pro Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland, the Kulturstiftung der (Spinnerei) Streiff AG, and the Stiftung der Schweizerischen Landesausstellung 1939.

Parallel to the exhibition, the XENIX cinema in Zurich will show films by Robert Frank from 1.9. to 2.10.2005.

Publications on the exhibition:
1. "Robert Frank - Storylines", 208 pages, 243 illustrations, published by Steidl, Göttingen.

2. Essays über Robert Frank. 160 pages, 12 illustrations, 9 essays and a conversation with Robert Frank. Edited by the Fotomuseum Winterthur and the Fotostiftung Schweiz, published by Steidl, Göttingen.