Swiss American photographer Robert Frank recently died. Although he had a lifetime of achievements, he is most famous for his early book The Americans published in 1959. It was a record of a cross country trip that he made in 1955.
Most remembrances of Frank feature the cover image from that book, a picture of the riders on a trolley in New Orleans. It clearly captures segregated America, with the whites in the front and blacks in the black. But looking at it again, I noticed that it also had something to say about the lives of older women. The white woman in the front, looking angry, might have been out for a day of shopping. The black woman in the back, in a crisp white shirt that might be part of a uniform, perhaps is coming home from a day of work.
That photo inspired me to look for other images of older women in the book. The one above shows privileged white women enjoying a garden party. The picture captures the regalia of well put together older women in the fifties, including little hats, pearls, pins, and sometimes gloves. If they weren’t holding champagne glasses, would they still look like the world was their oyster?
But perhaps my favorite, just for the wealth of information about city life, is the one above. It was taken on Canal Street in New Orleans. The crowd is a mix—black and white, young and old, the optimistic looking and the careworn. the most arresting are the two older women, front and center. One is plump and the other stooped; both appear to be going against the flow. For Frank, obviously older women were not invisible.