Mabou Portfolio by Robert Frank
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Portfolio of six 250-line screen prints on acid-free Rives cover stock.
Hand-pulled on a Malibander flatbed press, one colour at a time, with a range of six to eight colour lightfast inks.
Each print signed and editioned, in pencil, au recto.
Printed in 1980
Edition of 70 + 30 APs (#22/70)
A Monument to Electricity + Photography, 1976: 25 x 23 inch (63.50 x 58.42 cm)
Another World (Mabou Harbour, Nova Scotia), 1976-1977: 18 ½ x 27 ¼ inch (46.99 x 69.22 cm)
In Mabou - Wonderful Time - with June, 1977: 25 x 24 inch (63.50 x 60.96 cm)
Isn't It Wonderful Just To Be Alive, 1971: 25 x 24 inch (63.50 x 60.96 cm)
Mabou Coal Mines [in collaboration with June Leaf], Winter 1976-1977: 23 x 39 inch (58.42 x 99.06 cm)
Mailbox + Letters, Winter 1976-1977: 33 ¼ x 24 ½ inch (84.30 x 62.23 cm)
One of the most influential photographers of his generation, Robert Frank played a significant role in changing the visual language of post-war photography, and his more subjective approach to documentary photography has been a lasting model for numerous photographers since. Frank was also an innovative filmmaker and a relentless experimenter in multiple media. Over the course of fifty years he developed a diverse body of work that centers on a distinctive but continually shifting approach to the still and moving image.
Frank is best known for The Americans, a collection of photographs he made while traveling throughout the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship in the late 1950s. Published in book form first in France in 1958 and in the U.S. the following year, the series depicts then-overlooked subjects such as diners, gas stations, and barroom jukeboxes. Initially condemned by critics for being, in fact, un-American, the series appears today as a prescient look at certain cultural icons that have become deeply familiar. The view of American culture that comes through in the book, filtered through Frank's personal vision, is lonelier and more ambivalent than the idealized image that was conveyed by the media in the midst of the post-war era. Frank undermined the prevailing model of photo-reportage in other ways as well. The Americans was published without lengthy descriptive captions to explicitly contextualize each of the images, and the sequencing creates an intuitive narrative rather than a clear progression, leaving the reader to glean meaning cumulatively from the whole. Although Walker Evans, a friend and mentor to Frank, had taken a similar approach in his book American Photographs in 1938, Frank diverged dramatically from Evans and other photographers at the time by embracing a rough, unrefined style and the off-kilter vocabulary of the snapshot.
The Americans brought Frank substantial renown, but by the time the book was published he had already turned away from photography to filmmaking. In 1959 he directed Pull my Daisy with Alfred Leslie, a film that captured the tenor of the Beat movement, with which Frank was associated. A reluctant recipient of fame, however, Frank bought land in Mabou, Nova Scotia and in 1970 relocated from New York. His work at that point began to shift increasingly towards personal subject matter, such as the small details of his life and his relationships with family and friends. While he continued making films, Frank returned to still photography in the 1970s, primarily using it as a central element in works of collage. Influenced by his experience with film, he began combining multiple photographs and text in complex, layered works. Often scratching into the embedded photographs or writing on the paper beside pictures that have been cut apart and reconfigured, the text in these works both augments and challenges the images.
Born in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1924, Robert Frank emigrated to New York after WWII at the age of twenty-two. He found immediate success as a commercial photographer, working for Harper's Bazaar and other publications. Frank traveled to South America, England, and other parts of Europe to work on various projects, and in the following years he was included by curator Edward Steichen in a number of seminal exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, including 51 American Photographers (1951) and The Family of Man (1955). It was Frank's Guggenheim Fellowship, however, awarded in 1955, that allowed him to pursue an ambitious project on his own terms. Frank's archives are housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
Back in 1951, long before not yet legendary Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank would become legendary with the publication of his highly influential book The Americans in 1959, he remarked that "when people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice."
You feel that way looking at the six exquisitely made prints making up this small but choice portfolio. The prints, painstakingly made in 1980 in a signed and numbered edition of 70, with an additional 30 signed artist's proofs, began life as photo-collages (the originals are in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada) made after Frank left New York in 1969 to move, with artist June Leaf, to the remote settlement of Mabou, in Cape Breton, N.S..
In New York, Frank had been at the hub of things -- especially of the Beat movement of the fifties (Jack Kerouac wrote the preface for The Americans and wrote and acted in the infamous short film for which Frank was cinematographer, called Pull My Daisy) and the golden age of sixties rock (he also made a famous film about touring with The Rolling Stones called Cocksucker Blues).
Predictably, a great deal changed for Frank in Mabou. For one thing, he was free to navigate his way through his own history, a history now studded with personal family losses and misfortunes. He also turned from making his cool, classic 35mm black-and-white photographs to the production of composite photos, multiscreened works fastened together (as collages and compendia), some of them in colour (new for Frank), often taken with an early disposable instrument called a Lurecamera. The six famous Mabou-based photos from which the prints are made are bleakly beautiful images of the raw nature all around him, wide and windswept, meditative and lonely, often bearing words like the scribbled, chant-like repetition "Nova Scotia Canada ANOTHER WORLD" or, in a photo of a spare hydro-pole rising into the sunset (and curiously hung with a photo of a dog, presumably Frank's), "A Monument to Electricity and Photography." Each of them is still, decades later, a revelation.
Adapted from: The Globe and Mail
Robert Frank Dies; Pivotal Documentary Photographer Was 94 - New York Times, September 10, 2019