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People Places Passions Pursuits

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People Places Passions Pursuits

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The University of Pennsylvania recently published a coffee table book. My photographs of the Fisher Fine Arts Library, an amazing red Victorian building designed by Frank Furness, were chosen for the front and back covers. This building made with red terra cotta is an endless visual treat to photograph.

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You can purchase the book online.

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The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has a vibrant urban campus with a variety of old and new spaces. Thirty-nine of my photographs appear in the 130 page book, along with the work of other photographers.

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I Hate Having My Picture Taken

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I Hate Having My Picture Taken

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, "I hate having my picture taken," I could take an extra week's vacation each year. As a portrait photographer I strive to calm subjects' anxieties. Nervousness about having one's photograph taken is not a new worry. I was paging through a book of Ogden Nash poems recently and ran across this poem written in the 1930s.

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Waiting for the Birdie by Ogden Nash

Some hate broccoli, some hate bacon, I hate having my picture taken. How can your family claim to love you And then demand a picture of you? The electric chair is a comfortless chair, But I know an equally comfortless pair; One is the dentist’s, my good sirs, And the other is the photographer’s. Oh, the fly in all domestic ointments Is affectionate people who make appointments To have your teeth filled left and right. Or you face reproduced in black and white. You open the door and you enter the studio, And you feel less cheerio than nudio. The hard light shines like seventy suns, And you know your features are foolish ones. The photographer says, Natural, please, And you cross your knees and uncross your knees. Like a duke in a high society chronicle The camera glares at you through its monocle And you feel ashamed of your best attire, Your nose itches, your palms perspire, Your muscles stiffen, and all the while You smile and smile and smile and smile. It’s over; you weakly grope for the door; It’s not; the photographer wants one more. And if this experience you survive, Wait, just wait till the proofs arrive. You look like a drawing by Thurber or Bab, Or a gangster stretched on a marble slab. And all your dear ones, including your wife, Say There he is, that’s him to the life! Some hate broccoli, some hate bacon, But I hate having my picture taken.

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Robert Frank's "The Americans" Turns Fifty

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Robert Frank's "The Americans" Turns Fifty

This past weekend I visited Washington DC and saw the

exhibit at the National Gallery

of Robert Frank's photographs for his 1959 book,

The Americans

. This book of Frank's black & white photographs of America has been one of my favorite photo books since I first saw it in the late 1970s.

Casual and seemingly off hand, the photographs in The Americans paint a portrait of America in the 1950s vastly different than the sanitized image of the country portrayed in Life magazine and Saturday Evening Post. As a European outsider, Frank explored aspects of American culture that are not its best side--the racial divide between blacks and whites, the lonely interiors of bars, the sadness of the wrong side of the tracks.

For me some of the revelations of the exhibit at the National Gallery include seeing contact sheet and work prints of images that never made it into the final book. Frank shot 27,000 images in 35mm black & white on his various trips around the US in 1955 and 1956. He made rough prints of about 1,000 of those and ultimately pruned those down to 83 images. It fascinated me to see many strong images that never made the final cut.

The beauty and poetry of the book is the sum of all of the images rather than the heroics of any one specific image. There is a rhythm to the sequence of images in the book. Frank documented America's obsession with cars, the ubiquitous presence of American flags, and the despair and mystery of funerals, gas stations, diners and jukeboxes.

Another revelation to me was seeing the cover of the original published version of the book. Unable to find an American publisher willing to publish the book, Frank found a French publisher who issued the book in 1958. Copies of that version were on display. The cover features light blue graph paper representing a modern building coupled with a whimsical ink drawing of a sidewalk, pedestrians, a street lamp and an awning in a style similar to Saul Steinberg's New Yorker illustrations in the 1960s. This cover is bizarre because it is so different and disconnected from the dark and brooding photographs within.

In his introduction to the book, Jack Kerouac, author of

On the Road

, and a friend of Frank's sums up, "Anybody doesnt like these pitchers dont like potry, see? ....To Robert Frank I now give this message: You got eyes."

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