The legendary art director, Alexey Brodovitch, hired Robert Frank to work at Harper's Bazaar shortly after the young photographer's arrival in New York City in 1947. The following year, already tired of working for the fashion magazines, Frank traveled to South America where he photographed extensively and freely for the first time with the 35mm camera. Previously, he had worked mostly with large and medium-format cameras. Upon his return to New York and prior to leaving for Europe (at the time he thought it was a permanent move), Frank prepared two nearly identical copies of a book of photographs from his travels. The present lot is the copy he gave to Brodovitch.
It is inscribed: 'To Mr. Brodovitch, Before leaving New York I want to thank you and wish you good luck bonne chance. Robert Frank'. He gave the other copy to his mother which now resides with his archive at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Peru is Frank's first book, an essential step in his development which led to the creation of his seminal, The Americans, universally regarded as the most important photographic book of the second half of the 20th-century. Peru consists primarily of pairs of images, how one picture relates to the picture on the facing page, rather than a sequence that would lead from one pair to the next. Both copies of the handmade book have identical pairings but their order within the book differs. In one instance, the images are flopped, left page to right. Frank's design for the book, likely under Brodovitch's influence, required considerable planning and craftsmanship to make and mount the prints. Allowance had to be made for the width and placement of the white margins. It must have been especially challenging to print two negatives on the same sheet of photographic paper to accommodate for images that run across the gutter to the facing page.
One of the most striking, yet subtle, elements of the book are the covers. At first glance, it appears to be a single elongated image that wraps around from front to back. But in fact, the photograph on the back cover is a variant made an instant after the image on the front. It is one of the earliest examples of Frank's interest in cinematic sequencing.
A few years after making Peru, Frank met Robert Delpire, a young medical student in Paris. Delpire had transformed a student newsletter into an important new publication for art, literature and photography called Neuf. Within weeks of that first meeting, the entire December 1952 issue of Neuf (fig.) was devoted to Frank's photographs of South America. All but six of the twenty-eight pictures in the magazine are also in Peru, but more important, the front cover and four of the pairings are identical. A couple of years later, Delpire agreed to publish, even before the pictures were made, what eventually became The Americans.
In the mid-sixties, Brodovitch gave his copy of Peru to Joel Meyerowitz in thanks for occasionally taking over his design courses and other favors. Meyerowitz placed it on loan to the Photographs Collection at The Museum of Modern Art where it was available for study by appointment for over four decades.