'Sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film': Robert Frank, photography titan, dead at 94
Robert Frank (AFP)

Robert Frank, a pioneering documentary photographer whose raw style placed him among the 20th century's greats, has died, according to The New York Times. He was 94 years old.

The Swiss-born photographer rose to fame with the publication of his landmark book "The Americans," an unflinching look at US society that proved hugely influential.

Born on November 9, 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland, he grew up in a family of German Jewish industrialists, and became passionate about photography at the age of 12. He trained as a photo assistant in Zurich and Basel from 1940 to 1942.

After World War II, Frank moved to the United States, doing fashion and reporting photography for magazines that included Fortune, Life, Look and Harper's Bazaar.

But he grew "tired of romanticism," and, armed with his gut and a pair of Leicas, Frank began recording scenes of daily life.

His seminal book -- published in France in 1958 and stateside one year later -- emerged out of a series of road trips across the United States with his family in the mid-1950s, a journey akin to those made by his friend and writer Jack Kerouac and others from the "Beat Generation."

Classic photographic techniques were of little use to Frank, who snapped away as telling vignettes presented themselves, producing 28,000 images that were boiled down to 83 for a book that rewrote the rules of photo-journalism.

At lunch counters and drive-in movie theaters, on Route 66 and at champagne get-togethers, his gritty, subjective style laid bare a wide range of emotions and relationships, notably racial, that were rarely found in the popular illustrated magazines of the time.

As Kerouac wrote in the preface to the book's US edition, Frank "sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film."