Almost a decade after emigrating to the United States in the ’40s, Swiss photographer Robert Frank decided to document the reality of his adopted country’s then-current condition—a nation as he saw it obsessed with money and struggling with the divisions among race and class. Of the 12 cities he visited in 1955, the particularly moving images of Detroit make up the current exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Frank spent several days exploring the Motor City, visiting the Ford Motor Company River Rouge plant in the suburb of Dearborn, as well as the Gratiot Drive-In, and Belle Isle park. Capturing images of classic mid-century American life with his Leica camera, Frank compiled the pictures along with others from his journey in a groundbreaking photography book titled “The Americans” in 1958.
The show includes the eight photos from his iconic book, as well as a large collection of rare photos, many never before seen. With no catalog for the exhibit and no photography allowed inside the galleries, a trip to the slowly deteriorating city is the best way to understand Frank’s series of “gritty, dark and full of motion and emotion” photos.
© Lee Freidlander