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May 2, 2016

40 Amazing Black and White Photographs That Capture a Different America During the 1950s

Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank is one of the most influential photographers of the mid-20th century; he was noted for ironic renderings of American life.

Frank became a professional industrial photographer at the age of 22 and in the 1940s became a successful fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar magazine in Paris. He felt, however, that the scope of the work was too limited. He abandoned fashion photography about 1948 and went to the United States and then to Peru to explore the expressive possibilities of the 35-mm camera.

After photographing in Europe in 1950 and 1953, Frank returned to the United States. There in 1955 and 1956 he made a series of photographs ultimately published as The Americans (1959), a photographic book which showed a different America than the wholesome, nonconfrontational photo essays offered in some popular magazines.

Frank’s subjects weren’t necessarily living the American dream of the 1950s: They were factory workers in Detroit, transvestites in New York, black passengers on a segregated trolley in New Orleans.

Coffee Shop, Railway Station

Assembly Plant, Ford, Detroit

Bar, Las Vegas

Belle Isle, Detroit

Canal Street, New Orleans

Candy Store, New York City

Casino, Elko, Nevada

Charity Ball, New York City

Charleston, South Carolina

Chattanooga, Tennessee


City Hall, Reno, Nevada

Club Car

Courthouse Square, Elizabethville, North Carolina


Drugstore, Detroit

Elevator, Miami Beach

Funeral, St. Helena, South Carolina

Georgetown, South Carolina

Hotel Lobby, Miami Beach


Los Angeles

Men’s Room, Railway Station, Memphis

Motorama, Los Angeles

Movie Premiere, Hollywood

Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey

Picnic Ground, Glendale, California

Political Rally, Chicago

Public Park, Michigan

Ranch Market, Hollywood

Rodeo, Detroit

Rooming House, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles

Savannah, Georgia

St. Francis, Gas Station and City Hall, Los Angeles

St. Petersburg, Florida

Trolley, New Orleans

U.S. 285, New Mexico

Public Park, Cleveland, Ohio

Rodeo, New York City

Drive-in movie, Detroit

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