Eight years before Robert Frank’s classic “The Americans” was published in 1958, the photographer made a decision to leave his job as a fashion photographer for Harper’s Bazaar in New York to travel through Europe with his family.
He settled in a small fishing village in Valencia, Spain, a bleak coastal region suffering from harsh postwar conditions, like much of the rest of the continent.
“The amazing thing is that if you talk to him about Valencia in general he would tell stories,” says curator Vicente Todolí. “But when you hear the stories while seeing the photographs then it was like reading a story, but with photographic evidence.”
Based in Valencia, Todolí first met Frank in 1982. He had just co-curated his first exhibition, a retrospective of photographs by Walker Evans. Hoping to organize a similar showing of Frank’s work, Todolí sent him a catalog from the exhibition and asked if he would be interested in meeting.
“At that time I think I was 24 but I had a moustache so I would appear older, you know,” Todolí says. “And I went to meet him and he had a pile of photographs on the floor and he said, ‘OK, choose. Which ones would you like?’”
“Robert Frank: Fotografias/Films 1948-1984” opened in 1985 at the Sala Parpallo in Valencia. It was Todolí’s second exhibition and the beginning of his working relationship with Frank.
In 2010, Todolí proposed the idea of producing a Valencia book and the photographer agreed. They did the final editing and sequencing together over two days on the wooden floor of Frank’s New York studio apartment using photocopies of the prints.
Many of the photographs in “Valencia” had never been published. They reveal a coastal town in stark honesty and capture the daily life of people struggling to adapt after the Spanish Civil War.
“VIVIR SIN DORMIR, a sign in the sand and a few steps towards the dark, calm sea. Green and red lights from fishing boats out at sea,” Frank writes in the book. “Valencia: my first and happiest memory of 1952.”
Frank was born in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1924. He worked as a photographer’s assistant for several years before immigrating to New York in 1947.
After “The Americans” published in 1958, he began concentrating more on filmmaking and less on making pictures. He is considered one of history’s most influential photographers.
- Raymond McCrea Jones, CNN
Robert Frank portrait courtesy Dodo Jin Ming.