Saturday, October 10, 2009

Henry Frank: Father, Photographer

Robert Frank's father Henry sold radios and record players, designed furniture, and also in his spare time during family outings - snapped photographs with a stereo camera. A new title from Steidl brings together 47 of his images in Henry Frank: Father, Photographer.

Robert's influence early on has been cited in photographers like Gotthard Schuh, Jakob Tuggener and Walker Evans but looking through this small collection, the earliest seeds might be found long before his conscious decision to pick up a camera. Henry Frank pointed his camera at his family as would be expected, but also made images that seem to be early precursors to his sons a few decades later. One, of a grouping of men being lifted into the air by balloons, might remind some of Frank's image of the Macy's parade featured in Black, White and Things.

Robert in the afterword describes his father as a bon vivant and the sense of the pursuit of a good life is evident in his photographs. He photographs on joyous occasions loaded with small details that lock the pictures into the old world. Like Lartigue, the photos describe the weekend pleasures of families escaping into the grandeur of the countryside, the pride of owning an automobile, and portraits of family, friends and their pets.

Henry Frank: Father, Photographer is a small book and keeps its design to the classic feel of an album. It does not present the photographs as stereo images but as single frames and the plates show the roughness of the original images with faded edges and muddled tonalities. It is a modest book, perfectly fitting with the intimacy of the photos.

Skeptics might say that these are interesting to a wider audience mostly because they are in relation to Robert Frank. I see them as a collection worthy of their own merit, perhaps not great art, but certainly better than the average dad on a family outing - one who turned out to be a role model for a son's greater ambition.


Sebastian said...

damn, i'm just writing the foam-review. couldn't you find another steidl-title. they do beautiful books, you know?!

F. Martín Morante said...

Sorry for the prior.
My intention of the comment was to find an answer about what makes this book so "special" compared to others?

I would like to say that I LOVE Frank's (son) work and it is undeniable his father influence on his "career choice", but as I'm actually finishing a reading on "The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978" and I'm just trying to determine what or who it is considered an "author" for the "market".

Please, don't take this comment as a negative critic, just a question of someone trying to learn more.

My best,


jeff ladd said...


You're welcome to express any opinions, positive or negative.

I'd say that in relation to the American Snapshot there are hundreds of different amateur photographers that make up the hundreds of pictures in that book. I don't think more than two were shot by the same person. Photography is democratic like that. Anyone has the potential, no matter their background or education, to make a great photo by mistake and have it chosen for a book like that.

I'd say that Henry Frank's was more consistently good than the average person. That is what makes the collection worthy on its own.

Maybe you'll disagree. Let us know if you do.

Double E said...

i have not look at this book closely yet, but it could also be in the editing. 47 photos. out of how many.....

Sebastian said...

Robert Frank was only able to bring a limited amount of glassplates from europe with him he writes. I like the natural lightning, the use of shadows, highlights and reflections very much. a similar undertaking was done by ken morisawa, when he edited his grandfathers images for a beautiful sokyu-sha publication two years back. I for one enjoy older photographs especially if the hand of a talented and passionate "amateur" is visible.

Sebastian said...

now who's gonna write about that horrible ed ruscha book?

F. Martín Morante said...


Thank you so much for your kind response. I cannot say I disagree, I'm just trying to hear different bells regarding the book.

To make my whole point will take way longer. Still, it will be in each individual to decide buy or not the book. Also, I have get to know through your space many artists that were unknown to me, in some cases I had saved some money to purchase some of the books that have been featured here.

Thanks again.


Don said...

I think it was Chuck Close who said it most succinctly: Photography is the only medium where you can accidentally create a masterpiece.

Sebastian said...

everybody who is in it for the masterpiece and whorshipping can turn to the portfolio (which to me is complete and utter self-indulgence) -
oh yeah and irving penn is dead not, wasn't he a master too?

Anonymous said...

Robert Frank's work itself is a big accidental success.