Robert Frank and the Declaration of Independence

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In the fall of 1954, the Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank applied to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He asked for a fellowship “to photograph freely throughout the United States and make a broad voluminous picture record of things American.” Frank was successful and in the summer of 1955, set out in a used Ford to photograph America.

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Frank drove over 10,000 miles in the next eighteen months, shooting 767 rolls of film. 1957 and 1958 were spent developing and printing the film; selecting shots; finding the appropriate author to write an introduction (Jack Kerouac); and printing the final book, which was called Les Americains (1958) and The Americans (1959).

One of the first photographs Frank made in the summer of 1955 was “Fourth of July- Jay, New York, 1955”. That original negative has been reprinted several times over the years and in 2009 Jon Goodman used it to print 500 photogravure frontispieces for The Limited Editions Club’s printing of the Declaration of Independence.

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The Declaration of Independence. Photograph by Robert Frank; afterword by David Armitage. New York: The Limited Editions Club, 2010. Graphic Arts Collection. Copy 20 of 500.