ROBERT FRANK (1924–2019)
Trolley - New Orleans, 1955
gelatin silver print
signed, titled and dated in ink (recto); credited, titled and dated on affixed gallery label (frame backing board)
image: 758 x 1178 in. (19.3 x 30.1 cm.)
sheet: 11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.5 cm.)
Alan Koppel Gallery, Chicago, 2006;
acquired from the above by the late owner.
'Robert Frank,' U.S. Camera, U.S. Camera, 1957, pp. 106-107.
Robert Frank, Les Américains, Delpire, Paris, 1958, pl. 18, p. 41.
Robert Frank, The Americans, Grove Press, 1959, pl. 18, n.p. and front cover of dustjacket and in all subsequent editions.
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Lot Essay

The Alan and Dorothy Press Collection includes several images from Robert Frank’s celebrated book The Americans, including this early print of Trolley - New Orleans, 1955, one of his most famous works and the one chosen to appear on the cover of the publication. When the image was captured, Frank was fascinated by the vivacious energy of a parade and suddenly acted on impulse to turn around and at that moment, snapped a picture of a trolley passing through the French Quarter. Within the windows are a group of people ranging in race, gender and age, each looking directly at the photographer, displaying an array of expressions.

Robert Frank’s The Americans changed the course of American photography. The Swiss born photographer went on an epic cross-country journey in 1955 and 1956 on a Guggenheim Fellowship to create this series. For the ambitious project, he sought to produce something starkly in contrast to the saccharine happiness presented on glossy magazine pages in America at the time. The initial critical reception of this brutally honest work about postwar America was harsh. First photographers, and then others, came to embrace Frank’s book; in short, it resonated long and hard and held up under repeated viewings. It is now universally seen as one of the most important books of photographs of the 20th century, inspiring the past two generations of artists.

I speak of the things that are there, anywhere and everywhere—easily found, not easily selected and interpreted.
-Robert Frank

Recalling his creation of Trolley - New Orleans, Frank later wrote, ‘A streetcar goes by on a main street, maybe Bourbon Street, in New Orleans and the are people looking out at something. I wasn’t thinking about segregation when I shot it. But I did feel that the black people were more dignified (Documentary Photography, Life Library of Photography, Time-Life Books, New York 1972)’. Much of the strength of this masterful image is in how it is comprised of individual vignettes that are delineated by the window frames. This line of pictures in the windows of Trolley – New Orleans foreshadow Frank’s later explorations with filmmaking and compositions that incorporated enlarged filmstrips, contact sheets and collages with multiple panels and sequences.

As arresting today as it must have been when the image first appeared on the cover of The Americans in 1958, the image has come to be one of the most important and influential art works of the 20th century.

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