After avoiding the Holocaust in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s, Robert Frank emigrated from his homeland of Switzerland to the United States in 1947. Gaining a new sense of security and nationalism as a Jew in America, he chose to record a very chauvinistic image during a meaningful day in the history of the nation. Titled “The Fourth of July, Jay, New York, 1954,” Robert Frank’s photograph captures a very patriotic and celebratory scene of both children and adults enjoying a picnic on America’s Independence Day. Although multiple people appear in the photo, the main focus is directed towards the American flag, which is draped down the center of the picture and which spans about two-thirds the length of it. Because of the festive mood and the distinct emphasis placed on the American flag, this image seems to be used as a way to promote American pride and culture. Hinted at by the trees outlining the background of the photo, Jay is a rural area in New York. Signaled by the attire worn by the people and the fact that the flag appears to have less than 50 stars, it is clear that this picture was taken years ago, even without knowledge of the title. Furthermore, Robert Frank’s image caught my attention because of the strong sense of national pride and jubilant spirit radiating from it. Additionally, it does a fantastic job of illustrating the desirable feeling of community and belonging the United States has greatly valued.
This brief contextualization of the photo, and of the photographer, pays attention to the dominant image of the American flag and its many possibilities for symbolism. How did Frank, as a Jewish photographer, feel about the United States? Does this photo suggest that he felt part of the community feeling you see in the photo or that he stood outside of it? What leads you to feel connected to the community portrayed here?