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100 Highlights
of the MFAH
© Robert Frank, from "The Americans"
American, born Switzerland, 1924
Trolley, New Orleans, from the series "The Americans"
Gelatin silver print

Image: 9 x 13 7/16 inches
Sheet: 10 15/16 x 13 7/8 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Target Stores

Arts of North America

Swiss-born American artist Robert Frank is one of the most influential living photographers. His approach to the medium is born from an inquisitive rejection of conforming to societal pressures, resulting in raw and psychologically revealing photographs that often highlight the loneliness and isolation characteristic of postwar identity.

As the first European to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, Frank spent two years traveling by car throughout the United States, photographing his personal—and often cynical—reactions to the country. The culmination of this expedition was the 1959 publication of his seminal book The Americans. As Beat Generation novelist Jack Kerouac explained in the introduction, Frank “sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film.”

Frank presented an unromanticized portrait of a nation that was rapidly changing. He recognized various aspects of American life and society, in particular the “car culture” evolving around a new system of interstate highways. This photograph of a streetcar in New Orleans reveals social tensions rooted in the South in the mid-1950s, expressed by the hierarchical placement of whites, blacks, men, women, and children. Trolley, New Orleans was used as the cover for several early editions of The Americans, demonstrating the significance of this image to Frank.

The MFAH owns more than 320 of Frank's photographs, including all of the images from The Americans. He later added filmmaking to his body of work and made his first film, Pull My Daisy, with painter Alfred Leslie. It was added to the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress in 1996. The MFAH has served as distributor and repository for Frank's film and video since 1986. It's holdings include the Robert Frank Collection with several key titles in his filmography. Please make an appointment with the Works on Paper Study Center to view selections of Frank photographs from the MFAH collection.