In 1955, photographer Robert Frank snapped a picture of a girl in her uniform, working the elevator in a Miami hotel, as she looked toward the camera with an unreadable expression. Her name was Sharon Goldstein.
For years, the identity of the "elevator girl" remained a mystery. Frank's image was published in his most famous book, The Americans, which included a preface written by his friend Jack Kerouac. Of this image, Kerouac wrote:
"That little ole lonely elevator girl looking up sighing in an elevator full of blurred demons, what's her name & address?"
Although Kerouac's influence helped bring The Americans to a much wider audience, his question remained unanswered until around 10 years ago, when Sharon Goldstein, now known as Sharon Collins, found herself drawn to an image housed in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "I stood in front of this particular photograph for probably a full five minutes, not knowing why I was staring at it," Sharon said, in an interview with NPR. "And then it really dawned on me that the girl in the picture was me."
At the time the photograph was taken, Collins was 15, working a summer job as an elevator girl in the Sherry Frontenac Hotel. While "all the other kids were going off to summer camp," Collins was working to support her family. She claims she does not remember Frank and his camera, although she wishes she could. After she came forward as the girl in the image, she was able to piece together what happened from Frank's negatives, which shows several candid shots, followed by another group of pictures, where Collins grins and poses. But Frank picked this enigmatic image for his book. Collins has finally decided to come forward and out herself as the subject of the picture, on the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Americans.
As for Kerouac's analysis of the photograph, which pinpoints a quiet loneliness in the anonymous young face, Collins says:
"He saw in me something that most people didn't see. I have a big smile and a big laugh, and I'm usually pretty funny. So people see one thing in me. And I suspect Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac saw something that was deeper. That only people who were really close to me can see. It's not necessarily loneliness, it's ... dreaminess."