Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)
Gelatin silver print; 10 1/4 x 14 in. (26 x 35.6 cm)
Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2002 (2002.273)
As he traveled around the country in 195556 making the photographs that would constitute his landmark book, The Americans, Frank's impression of America changed radically. He found less of the freedom and tolerance imagined by postwar Europeans, and more alienation and racial prejudice simmering beneath the happy surface. His disillusionment is poignantly embodied in this image of a disheveled African-American man disengaged from the crowd and asleep in a fetal position amid the debris of an Independence Day celebration on Coney Island.
This was one of the last still photographs Frank made before he devoted his creative energy to filmmaking in the early 1960s. As such, it may be interpreted as an elegy to still photography; the lone figure functions as a surrogate for Frank himself, as he turned his back on Life-like photojournalism to concentrate on the more personal, dreamlike imagery of his films.