The Americans

About the Exhibition

The publication of Robert Frank’s The Americans marked a shift in the medium of photography. Traditionally, photographs had been viewed as an objective representation of reality, but Frank demonstrated that they could serve as expressive channels to communicate the photographer’s experience of the world. From the Library: Photobooks After Frank was a focus installation at the National Gallery of Art from August 8, 2015, to February 7, 2016. It explored the role of the photobook in the decades following The Americans and contemplated how Frank’s seminal work shaped the emergence of photography as a viable fine art. This exhibition coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Gallery’s photography collection.

The Americans

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Photographs by Robert Frank, Introduction by Jack Kerouac

First published in France in 1958, then in the United States in 1959, Robert Frank's The Americans changed the course of 20th-century photography. In 83 photographs, Frank looked beneath the surface of American life to reveal a people plagued by racism, ill-served by their politicians, and rendered numb by a rapidly expanding culture of consumption. Yet he also found novel areas of beauty in simple, overlooked corners of American life.


And it was not just Frank's subject matter—cars, jukeboxes, and even the road itself—that redefined the icons of America; it was also his seemingly intuitive, immediate, off-kilter style, as well as his method of brilliantly linking his photographs together thematically, conceptually, formally, and linguistically, that made The Americans so innovative. The book is as powerful and provocative today as it was 56 years ago.

  • Hardcover
  • 8.25 × 7.25 inches
  • 180 pages, 83 tritone images
  • Published 2008

Editorial Reviews

"The Americans challenged the presiding midcentury formula for photojournalism. Mr. Frank’s photographs… were cinematic, immediate, off-kilter and grainy, like early television transmissions of the period." —The New York Times

"When Robert Frank died last September, it was both unsurprising and shocking. Unsurprising because he was, after all, 94 years old, and no one lives forever; shocking because his passing leaves a hole in American photography—in American art—that is intolerably large. I can’t think of a single living artist who has as secure a status in his or her chosen field, and I doubt there will be one for some time…" —The Yale Review


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