American Witness: The Art and Life of Robert Frank

American Witness: The Art and Life of Robert Frank

by RJ Smith


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From the author of the acclaimed James Brown biography The One comes the first in-depth biography of renowned photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank, best known for his landmark book The Americans.

As well-known as Robert Frank the photographer is, few can say they really know Robert Frank the man. Born and raised in wartime Switzerland, Frank discovered the power and allure of photography at an early age and quickly learned that the art meant significantly more to him than the money, success, or fame. The art was all, and he intended to spend a lifetime pursuing it.

American Witness is the first comprehensive look at the life of a man who's as mysterious and evasive as he is prolific and gifted. Leaving his rigid Switzerland for the more fluid United States in 1947, Frank found himself at the red-hot social center of bohemian New York in the '50s and '60s, becoming friends with everyone from Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky to photographer Walker Evans, actor Zero Mostel, painter Willem de Kooning, filmmaker Jonas Mekas, Bob Dylan, writer Rudy Wirlitzer, jazz musicians Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus, and more. Frank roamed the country with his young family, taking roughly 27,000 photographs and collecting 83 of them into what is still his most famous work: The Americans. His was an America nobody had seen before, and if it was harshly criticized upon publication for its portrait of a divided country, the collection gradually grew to be recognized as a transformative American vision.

And then he turned his back on certain success, giving up photography to reinvent himself as a film and video maker. Frank helped found the American independent cinema of the 1960s and made a legendary film with the Rolling Stones. Today, the nonagenarian is an embodiment of restless creativity and a symbol of what it costs to remain original in America, his life defined by never repeating himself, never being satisfied. American Witness is a portrait of a singular artist and the country that he saw.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780306823367
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,149,730
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

RJ Smith has been a senior editor at Los Angeles Magazine, a contributor to Blender, a columnist for The Village Voice, and a staff writer for Spin, and has written for GQ, New York Times Magazine, Elle, Men's Vogue, and Yeti. His book The One: The Life and Music of James Brown was among the New York Times' "100 Notable Books of 2012." Smith lives with his wife and daughter in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 "Brush" 10

2 Flags and Mirrors 26

3 A Step Away from Them 37

4 Road Trips and Mind Trips 54

5 Early Morning in the Universe 69

6 Like Jumping in the Water 86

7 First Thought, Best Thought 103

8 The Network of Human Mayonnaise 117

9 Touched by the Hand of God 132

10 New Projects 151

11 An Impressive Bunch of Guys 164

12 Finally, Reality 178

13 A Lucite Spaceship 190

14 Sick of Goodby's 211

15 Bobby Hot Dog 228

16 Detective Work 245

17 The American 257

Afterword 268

Acknowledgments 271

Notes 275

Index 307

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