"Trolley - New Orleans is a remarkable portrayal of a common scene near the end of 1955 in the Deep South of the United States where racist traditions ran deep. Around the time the photograph was made, in nearby Montgomery, Alabama on 1 December 1955, a black woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat near the front of the bus to a white man. This small event touched off a year-long bus boycott and launched the Civil Rights movement. That Robert Frank, a foreigner, was so attuned to the undercurrents of American society and was able to express his personal feelings about what he observed, visually and without words, begins to explain why he is regarded as one of the most important photographers of the 20th century." (Stuart Alexander, 'Robert Frank,' in Haworth-Booth, ed., The Folio Society Book of the 100 Greatest Photographs, The Folio Society, 2006, p. 158)
Robert Frank made this print in 1961 for his two-person exhibition with Harry Callahan at the Museum of Modern Art, the last show organized by Edward Steichen before his retirement in 1962. It is the only early exhibition print of this image in private hands and the only one printed by Frank himself. The other early exhibition print is smaller and was made by David Heath for the 1961 exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago where it was acquired at that time.
The negative for Trolley - New Orleans has been identified by Sid Kaplan, Frank's printer since 1968, as a particularly difficult one to print. Sarah Greenough, Curator of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art where Frank's archive is housed, has described the prints in the MoMA exhibition as having, "a full, lush tonal range. Rich and eloquent, they reveal the nuances of light that Frank had so succinctly captured ... More moody and poignant than sharp or harsh, more sad, even elegiac, than biting or bitter, these prints suggest that Frank was attempting to prove to his critics that The Americans was born not out of hatred, contempt, or disgust, not out of a desire to destroy, but rather, as he had written, out of love. Further increasing their intense physical, even tactile presence, Steichen mounted them onto Masonite, as was his custom at the time, and hung them directly on the wall with no glass to protect their surfaces or diminish their evocative tones." (Sarah Greenough, Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans, National Gallery of Art/Steidl, 2009, p. 316)
Extending the exceptional provenance, Frank subsequently gave the present lot to Sidney Rapoport who developed a special form of offset lithography with which he printed the 1968 and 1969 editions of The Americans. The current owner acquired it from Mr. Rapoport.