Auctions | November 3, 2015

Sotheby’s NY to Sell 77 Photographs from Robert Frank’s “The Americans”

NEW YORK, 2 November 2015—On 17 December, Sotheby’s will offer at auction an outstanding collection of images from Robert Frank’s The Americans, one of the most influential books of photography ever published. Collectors Ruth and Jake Bloom assembled this extraordinary group of iconic photographs over more than two decades, collecting 77 of the 83 pictures reproduced in the book. This seminal series of images, so compelling on the printed page, gains a new resonance when seen as photographic prints. The sale this December will represent the first time such an extensive collection of photographs from The Americans has appeared at public auction. “The exhibition will be on view in Paris from 9 to 13 November, in San Francisco on 1 December, in Los Angeles on 3 December, and in New York beginning on 12 December.”

Christopher Mahoney, Head of Sotheby’s Photographs Department, said: “It is truly a unique opportunity to offer this remarkable collection at auction, particularly as it is one of the most comprehensive groupings of The Americans known to be in private hands. The series is one of the great accomplishments in the canon of post-war photography, and seeing these photographs together is a powerful experience and a testament to Ruth and Jake’s status as visionary collectors.”

“When people look at my pictures, I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.”

In 1955, the Swiss-born Robert Frank earned a Guggenheim Fellowship that allowed him to embark upon a series of photographic trips throughout America. Frank produced thousands of images on these trips, which he carefully and meticulously edited into the selection of 83 images that were first published as Les Américains in France in 1958, and as The Americans in this country in 1959. 

Frank’s gritty yet profoundly nuanced photographs of post-war America presented a view of a country at odds with the uncritical vision of prosperity offered by the media at the time. Beat poet and writer Jack Kerouac, in his introduction to the 1959 edition, wrote that Frank photographed with “the agility, mystery, genius, sadness and strange secrecy of a shadow,” and “sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film.” Reviewed critically at the time, The Americans has come to have a profound impact upon photography and culture to this day. The New York Times recently declared Frank “the most influential photographer alive.”

Ruth and Jake Bloom, among the top collectors of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, began buying art in the 1960s. A devotion to under-exhibited artists led Ruth to open her eponymous gallery in 1988, a space known for its exhibitions of cutting-edge art. Their pursuit of photographs from The Americans began in the early 1990s. Frank’s photographs held special resonance for the Blooms, reminding them both of the country they had traveled through in their youth. Ms. Bloom said, “What Frank captured reminded me of my childhood and an America I was familiar with. The patriotism, the poverty, the family love and despair, as well as a time in our country when family was center place in our lives." For years, the Blooms displayed their collection on the walls of their Sun Valley, Idaho, home.