Robert Frank 1924-2019

Robert Frank at his home in Mabou on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia photos by Chad Tobin

Robert Frank died today. As Sean O’Hagan wrote for The Guardian “it is impossible to imagine photography’s recent past and overwhelmingly confusing present without (Robert Frank’s) lingeringly pervasive presence. Frank was 31 in 1955 when he secured the Guggenheim Grant… He shot around 28,000 pictures. When Les Americains was published by Robert Delpire in France in 1958, it consisted of just 83 black and white images, but it changed the nature of photography, what it could say and how it could say it… it remains perhaps the most influential photography book of the 20th century… (Robert Frank) caught what Diane Arbus called the ‘hollowness’ at the heart of many American lives, the chasm between the American dream and the everyday reality.” One of the photographers I know in Cape Breton, Chad Tobin, @tobinchad, has been photographing Robert Frank at his summer home in Mabou, Nova Scotia for ten years now. He and Robert Frank had a special connection.

There are a lot of talented photographers in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and I’ve been privileged to mentor and teach a workshop there. Chad Tobin, has been photographing Robert Frank at his summer home in Mabou, Nova Scotia for ten years now. It seems like a grand statement, but Robert Frank influenced every social documentary photographer since his book “The Americans” came out in the 1950’s. I know he influenced me.

This is from the NYT Obituary today: “Mr. Frank may well have been the unwitting father of what became known in the late 1960’s as the snapshot aesthetic, a personal offhand style that sought to capture the look and feel of spontaneity in an authentic moment. The pictures had a profound influence on the way photographers began to approach not only their subjects but also the picture frame.”

About the author

RANDY OLSON’s 27 National Geographic magazine projects have taken him to many countries in Africa, the Siberian Arctic, Abu Dhabi, American Samoa, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Dubai, Guyana, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Kamchatka, Newfoundland, Pakistan, Palmyra, Republic of Georgia, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and the South Pacific.
National Geographic Society published a book of his work in their Masters of Photography series in January 2011. Olson was the 2003 Magazine Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International (POYi) competition, and was also awarded POYi’s 1992 Newspaper Photographer of the Year—one of only two photographers to win in both media in the largest photojournalism contest operating continuously since World War II. While working at The Pittsburgh Press, Olson received an Alicia Patterson Fellowship to support a seven-year project documenting a family with AIDS, and a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his story on problems with Section 8 housing. He was also awarded the Nikon Sabbatical and a grant from the National Archives to save the Pictures of the Year collection.
Melissa Farlow and Randy Olson are photojournalists in the documentary tradition. Their work has taken them to 50 countries over the past 20 years. Even though they are published in LIFE, GEO, Smithsonian and other magazines, they have primarily worked on 50 projects for the National Geographic Society. They normally work individually, but have co-produced National Geographic magazine stories on northern California, American national parks, and the Alps. They photographed the southern United States for a book by Collins Publishing and have collaborated on over 70 books by various publishers.