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.