Jim Frank’s Harvest is truly bountiful – a veritable outpouring of dialogues with his artistic inspirations and influences, photographic and painterly, and of processes, including platinum prints, tintypes and photographs printed on aluminum. The tools employed in bringing to fruition this mid-career retrospective range from 35 mm to 8 x 10 view camera to early digital point-and-shoot and, most recently, iPhone.
Trained at Ohio Wesleyan and Cranbrook Academy of Art, Frank – a native of Rye, New York – is firmly grounded in the fine arts. Indeed, he credits an undergraduate drawing instructor with helping him to recognize the importance of light, which became the focus of his life’s work. Regardless of what is before his camera – architectural details, landscapes, people – the ultimate subject of his work is light: light filtering through a window’s grille-work, light obscured by darkening clouds, light reflected by the water of Long Island Sound or the Aegean Sea. The photographer’s experimentation with processes beyond the traditional silver gelatin has been a quest for more nuanced and more expressive light effects.
Several decades ago, while working as a master printer of photographs, Frank had the opportunity to work with and print a body of work by Berenice Abbott. Her influence can be seen in several of the pieces in the exhibition. Other muses also make appearances: Steichen, Weston, the masters of “der neue sachlichkeit.” Yet the work is always Frank’s own; it is as though he is in conversation with those who have inspired him, offering personal responses to questions posed.
A recent inspiration is not a photographer at all, though certainly an artist with a passion for light – the great 19th century British landscapist Joseph Mallord William Turner. In a series of images made in the past year and printed on aluminum to further enhance their luminosity, Frank has montaged images made in his iPhone while sailing on Long Island Sound with a favorite painting by Turner. These works are a departure as they introduce color into an oeuvre that has otherwise focused on black and white. Yet, at the same time, they represent a culmination, with the artistic dialogue framed by the work itself. They are also intensely personal reflections on mortality spurred by the death of one parent and the aging of the other. The ebb and flow of the water and the shifting of the clouds are metaphors for the photographer, reminding viewers of the infinite cycles of nature where every ending is a new beginning.
~ Gillian Greenhill Hannum, Photo Historian