Robert Frank, ground-breaking documentary photographer, complicated and supported how I saw the world as a budding documentary photography student in the ‘90s. (We never met but I heard him talk to me through his images; how I framed the world was not crazy. An odd, unscripted candance was the part of me trying to find a personal visual language.) My photog professor handed me Frank’s book of “The Americans” when I decided to start a semester immersion journalism assignment on roller-skating rinks—the people inside, the lighting, the subculture.
The mantra back then was if we got one shot out of thirty-six (single frames on a film roll), he considered that a success. So I bought film in bulk with money I made off scholarship and writing news stories for the local newspapers. I sat in dark closets making rolls and rolls of film on my own blank film canisters. While fellow college kids drank in bars, I stood in the darkroom, watched my lousy (but sometimes beautiful) images develop, and smelled like fixer all the way home until I showered.
The goal was always: Does the developed image look like what you have stored in your brain at that exact moment of tripping the shutter? Do the images align?
I have spent the last 20 years hunting down his work in museums, in addition to Friedlander, Evans, Winogrand, Arbus, Atget. I took a precious day of vacation (only two weeks a year allowed on the job!) to listen to a lecture by famed photography curator John Szarkowski discuss documentary photography at the LACMA, where I was a docent.
This is no place, however, right now, for an extended essay on the state of photography in my personal opinion, but to only show extreme gratitude for finding Frank’s work at the right time in my life.
I hope you have artistic giants that have shaped your world, too.