Fourth of July, Coney Island

Artist: Robert Frank (American, born Zurich, 1924)

Date: 1958

Medium: Gelatin silver print

Dimensions: Image: 26 x 35.6 cm (10 1/4 x 14 in.)
Mat: 18 1/2 Ă— 22 1/2 in. (47 Ă— 57.2 cm)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2002

Accession Number: 2002.273

Rights and Reproduction: © 2005 Robert Frank


As he traveled around the country in 1955-56 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.