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DIA looks at 1950s Detroit through the eyes of photographer Robert Frank


Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955 showcases more than 50 rare and many never-before-seen black-and-white photographs taken in Detroit by legendary artist Robert Frank. The exhibition will be on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) March 3–July 4, 2010. The exhibition is free with museum admission.


In 1955 and 1956 Robert Frank traveled the U.S. taking photographs for his groundbreaking book The Americans, published in 1958. With funding from a Guggenheim grant, he set out to create a large visual record of the United States, and Detroit was one of his early stops.


Inspired by autoworkers, the cars they made, along with local lunch counters, drive-in movies and public parks such as Belle Isle, Frank transformed everyday experiences of Detroiters into an extraordinary visual statement about American life.


According to Frank, The Americans included “things that are there, anywhere, and everywhere…a town at night, a parking lot, the man who owns three cars and the man who owns none…the dream of grandeur, advertising, neon lights…gas tanks, post offices and backyards….”


Frank was drawn to Detroit partly by a personal fascination with the automobile, but also saw its presence and effect on U.S.-American culture as essential to his series. Frank was one of the few photographers allowed to take photographs at the famous Ford Motor Company River Rouge factory, where he was amazed to witness the transformation of raw materials into fully assembled cars.


In a letter to his wife he wrote, “Ford is an absolutely fantastic place…this one is God’s factory and if there is such a thing – I am sure that the devil gave him a helping hand to build what is called Ford’s River Rouge Plant.” Frank spent two days taking pictures at the Ford factory, photographing workers on the assembly lines and manning machines by day, and following them as they ventured into the city at night.


Born in 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland, Frank emigrated to the U.S. in 1947. He worked on assignments for magazines from 1948–53, but his photographic books garnered the highest acclaim. After publishing The Americans, he began filmmaking and directed the early experimental masterpiece Pull My Daisy, in collaboration with Jack Kerouac in 1959.


Frank continues to work in both film and photography and has been the subject of many traveling exhibitions in recent years. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. established Frank’s photographic archive in 1990 and organized his first traveling retrospective, Moving Out, in 1995 as well as a 2009 exhibition Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans.” Frank lives in Mabou, Nova Scotia, and New York City with his wife, artist June Leaf.


Hours and Admission

Museum hours are 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for ages 6-17, and free for DIA members. For membership information call 313-833-7971.







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