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.
Inscription: Inscribed in green pencil on print, verso, bottom right: "30/400".
Artist; Edward Steichen (probably before 1959), New York; Joanna Steichen, New York; [Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York].
Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Photographs by Harry Callahan and Robert Frank," January 29, 1962–April 1, 1962.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 36," November 3, 2003–March 7, 2004.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "On Photography: A Tribute to Susan Sontag," June 6, 2006–September 4, 2006.
Milwaukee Art Museum. "Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photograph, 1940-1960," January 30, 2010–April 25, 2010.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Dream States: Contemporary Photographs and Video," May 16, 2016–October 30, 2016.