Robert Frank speaks briefly to mark new retrospective

By Hillel Italie, AP

NEW YORK–At age 91, Robert Frank is happy to let others talk about his past.

Hundreds gathered at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts on Thursday night to celebrate the opening of a new retrospective for the renowned photographer and filmmaker.

Making a rare public appearance, Frank spoke briefly, saying he was gratified to see so many people turn out. But Frank added that he preferred thinking about the future. That’s one reason he left his native Switzerland and settled in the U.S. in 1947.

“I’m glad I stayed,” he said during a rare public appearance, his voice still bearing the rich accent of the country he left behind. “It’s a good thing not to go back in your life.”

“You could be free,” Frank added about the U.S. “You could become something you couldn’t become in Switzerland.”

“Robert Frank: Books and Films, 1947-2016,” which runs through Feb. 11, was arranged very much in the unpretentious and improvisatory spirit that Frank brought to the visual arts.

Instead of a museum, his work hangs in the lobby and on the eighth floor of the Tisch school. Unframed banners of his pictures and proof sheets from his landmark “The Americans” fill the walls and copies of his books dangle from the ceiling. The exhibit’s catalog is designed like a newspaper, featuring essays about Frank and an interview in which he spoke of the bond he felt with the poor and working class people of “The Americans” and other works.

“It was very important that I could put myself in their shoes, so that I could feel something,” he said. “It’s the same way for me now, maybe even more so. I know that life can be hard.”

The retrospective also includes copies of his correspondence and pictures of some famous people he befriended, including Yoko Ono and Allen Ginsberg. Some of Frank’s movies, including the Beat classic “Pull My Daisy,” will be screened at NYU.

Wearing a camouflage jacket and dark trousers, Frank looked as if he had just arrived from a field assignment. He said that he enjoyed seeing his old pictures if only because they reminded him how long an image could last. The room was filled with photography students and faculty and an audience member asked Frank what advice he might have.

“Keep your eyes open,” he responded.