While I am sitting here in bed feeling sorry for myself because I have a case of tonsilitis, a fever *and* it’s raining outside, I figured this as good a time as any to blog about something. Btw if you like a hilarious read you really should check out groupiemom’s blog from time to time. She blogs about Pofadder:)
We went to the TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) this weekend gone and I saw some amazing art. Naturally, the one big Rembrandt portrait was amazing and a big crowd pleaser. I also got to see Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Käthe Kollwitz, Munch, loads of Miro, Picasso’s and Renoir’s. Then there’s the endless amount of diamonds, asian art, furniture, Russian religious icons, snuff bottles, Karel Appel, Lucebert and more, more, more. I probably only got to see 30% of what was on display. Dazzling.
I was very pleased to see quite a lot of photography yet a little bit bummed that some galleries had the big names but not very interesting work of said big names. Like this portrait of Clinton by Annie Leibovitz that probably worked really well along side an interview in a magazine, but seeing it on a wall was a bore. Anyway, I also got to see an awesome portrait of Chuck Close and color photographs by Ansell Adams (not a fan, sacrilege according to most, I’m sure ) And then I moved upstairs and yay, Dennis Hopper, Steichen, Man Ray and Robert Frank. And man, I love those!
I really like Robert Frank’s earlier documentary style (and Walker Evans inspired) work, he was friends with Kerouac and Ginsberg but I *really* am a huge fan of his later, far more personal work. Robert Frank is a Swiss born photographer who moved to the U.S.A. after WWII. Starting out as a fashion photographer for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, he moved into documentary photography along the way. Frank took his family on a string of road trips over a period of two years and took thousands of photographs which lead to his classic publication ‘The Americans’. Gripped by the contrast of 1950’s optimism vs class differences and racism, Frank took gritty black & white photos that were not favorably accepted by the public at first.
In fact, Popular Photography Magazine said that Frank’s images were “meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness.” Fortunately, the introduction made by Kerouac helped the book to “stay alive” and it is now considered an important body of work for art historians and sociologists alike. Sociologist Howard S. Becker wrote about ‘The Americans’:
“Robert Frank’s (…) enormously influential The Americans is in ways reminiscent both of Tocqueville’s analysis of American institutions and of the analysis of cultural themes by Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. Frank presents photographs made in scattered places around the country, returning again and again to such themes as the flag, the automobile, race, restaurants—eventually turning those artifacts, by the weight of the associations in which he embeds them, into profound and meaningful symbols of American culture.”
To me though, it is his later, personal work that I love best. Robert Frank’s son Pablo was diagnosed with schizophrenia and later committed suicide in a mental hospital, a few years after his daughter Andrea had died in a plane crash. When you look at his later work, you feel the photos are his way of lending a voice to these feelings of dark and insurmountable loss. A way of communicating with the world, or perhaps just with himself. Perhaps, he is just trying to create order. Frank mainly shows objects, still lives or landscapes and often as composites of 2, 4 or 6 photos or with writing or scratching on it, but to me they are more personal than when he would given us a portrait.
“Quality doesn’t mean deep blacks and whatever tonal range. That’s not quality, that’s a kind of quality. The pictures of Robert Frank might strike someone as being sloppy – the tone range isn’t right and things like that – but they’re far superior to the pictures of Ansel Adams with regard to quality, because the quality of Ansel Adams, if I may say so, is essentially the quality of a postcard. But the quality of Robert Frank is a quality that has something to do with what he’s doing, what his mind is. It’s not balancing out the sky to the sand and so forth. It’s got to do with intention.” Elliott Erwitt
I remember this massive exhibition of his work at the MACBA in Barcelona and I was moved to tears. The exhibit was set up chronologically which worked well for me as you can really follow the change in his work. I visited the exhibition with my awesome friend Eva who merely “liked” the exhibit and I got a little irritated “like, like what do you mean you just like it?!” I told her a bit about his personal life and then she walked through the entire exhibition again which I thought was very cool, and changed her mind:) I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but to me you do need to know a bit about this photographer’s live to really feel the unspeakable, the intention and the loss. Some may argue that if he was truly great you wouldn’t need the extra information but let’s agree to disagree on that:)
Robert Frank lives in Nova Scotia.
Images: Francis Bacon Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X Painting 1953 | Chuck Close Self Portrait 1967/68 | Women at a Diner by Robert Frank, taken from The Americans | Cover for Frank’s The Americans | The man himself Robert Frank by Marc Trivier | Allen Ginsburg and Robert Frank by I don’t know who