Robert Frank and I Agree: Photography Should Be Fun

I’ve not been posting much lately. I’ve been busy, the website crashed for a while, I’ve just finished writing a 25-page proposal for a photography exhibit entitled The One and Only New Truth, and I’m trying to finalize a maquette of Car Sick. Photography hasn’t been ‘fun.’ It feels more like an obligation.

I’ve just finished reading RJ Smith’s biography of Robert Frank, American Witness: The Art and Life of Robert Frank. After publishing The Americans, Frank stopped photographing. He was sick of it. It wasn’t fun; it was now an obligation. At its best, it had functioned as a pre-verbal means of showing a truth, something he couldn’t articulate with words or logic. Frank was remarkably obtuse in explaining his photography. He hated it when people asked him about it. That wasn’t the point, his explanation. A flowery explanation might be facile and clever…but wrong. Just look at the pictures; you didn’t need his help.

He never really went back to still photography, having transitioned to film. Only in his later years, living in the Nova Scotia wilds, did he dabble again in photography. His choice of camera was a Polaroid, something quick and easy, without artifice, that gave him lucky accidents. Frank always claimed that his best photography was accidental, nothing much really, just random snaps that produced serendipitous results. Of course, it was more than that; it was an eye that had been rigorously trained to understand the exceptional in the serendipitous when it occasionally occurred.

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By chance, having finished Frank’s book, finished my proposal, put aside Car Sick for a few days, I opened a box and found a series of polaroids I’d taken on a trip to the west coast in 2005. I had just come back from Paris, where I had been involved in all sorts of photography related stuff. I was sick of it, much like Frank was sick of his photography, apparently sick enough of it that I decided to leave my cameras at home and take an old Polaroid and some outdated film. I’ve posted some of the photos. Nothing special, but fun. I’m sure more than a few of you will think they’re shit. Be that as it may, I like them. I was clearly having fun again.

12 thoughts on “Robert Frank and I Agree: Photography Should Be Fun

  1. Chris McCallum

    Tim,

    These polaroids are wonderful – loaded with myth and possibilty. Plenty of room for interpretation and wonder. The statue of Christ morphing into ascension perhaps?

    Reply
  2. Rob Campbell

    Not to play the sycophant, but I’m sorry, your shit is really cool shit, Polaroid or otherwise. And no, you didn’t get sick of it, you just misunderstood yourself. Had you been sick of it, there would have been no Polaroids.

    You can’t ever shake it. As one either has it or has it not, when you have it you are stuck with it for ever and a day. Making or not making pictures is only the outer expression of the condition. It’s easy enough to lose interest for a while, especially if you feel it’s not going anywhere, but from personal experience, and I doubt that’s an extrapolation too far, exposure to good pictures turns those juices right back on again. If you imagine that photography is supposed to make you happy, you have misunderstood something else. A love for it creates an appetite, and as with all slightly esoteric appetites, it has to be fed, and that ain’t always easy or comfortable. It’s turned out to be both a blessing and a curse in my life, and it will be only after I move to the next level of existence that I might know which it was more, devil or angel. For the moment, and obviously I know zilch about your personal life, I think photography pretty much defines us both.

    Reply
    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Rob: for some reason, my in-box program often files your posts in the “Trash” . Seriously. :-). I find them there later and move them to the inbox. That’s why you’ll see a lag time when your comments post. It tends to happen when people use swear words in the post. I noticed you used the word “shit,” which shunted your comment to the trash. The downside of automation.

      Reply
  3. Rob Campbell

    From deep in the “Trash” and delayed due to the recent case of Internet force majeure, seasons greetings to Tim, and thanks for keeping the site going. Of course, good wishes extended to everybody else of good intent reading here.

    Rob

    Reply
  4. Stephen J

    Welcome back Tim.

    It doesn’t really matter what form the camera takes, any good shot that I might make will be guaranteed to be entirely serendipitous. Consequently all the shit that appears in between, has to raise a quiet inward smile, otherwise I wouldn’t do any of it…. I think I might have mentioned it before, but I find that walking is helpful for my chronic condition. I picked photography as something to expand on, despite a lifetime of knowing that I am not that good, more of a happy snapper, but it fits and that is just me.

    The more weighty question to me is, do I like the work of photographers that to my mind, take themselves too seriously? I am just reflecting on my view of that poe faced prat Don McCullin, who sees a world of violence and misery everywhere and can’t wait to make money out of it. It is what socialists do…Yuk.

    He is a good printer though.

    Compare him to someone like Saul Leiter, who really did look like he was having fun, or HCB, who being French, just looked funny (peculiar). 🙂

    You are right about unpredictability though, as I say, that is a common feature of my photography, but probably the least predictable cameras for me are not polaroids, but pinhole cameras. That is not to say I dislike the former, I have just never had one, that is all, my fun cameras of choice are the latter. With the former, the unpredictability is in the development, whilst the latter is all about the distortions caused by the variability of the aperture and or time considerations.

    Indeed, one of my kids bought me an Ilford Obscura for a gift last week, and I am looking forward to my first solo experiments with 4×5. Thus far, I have only done large format portrait photography as a weekend course, and did not enjoy it that much, it is a bit formal for me. Suffice to say…. Forget the red window and almost invisible frame numbers, this one needs a new film between shots, so Ilford supply a spare light tight box for the used film. I have to provide my own “feely bag” to act as dark room though.

    Lawks what fun.

    Reply
  5. Lee Rust

    The unpredictable quality of Polaroid photos has always been fun. The future is unpredictable too, so best wishes to all in 2020!

    Reply
    1. Rob Campbell

      Lee, you’re talking about the medium that was supposed to save photographers’ lives and art director skin.

      Had a Polaroid back for the 500 Series bodies, but only used it on extremely rare occasions.

      Best wishes to you too for the coming year.

      I remember that when 2000 was rolling in there was mass worry about airliners falling out of the sky and everything going wrong because computer clocks and systems would probaby screw up making the change from one century to the next. I think nothing happened.

      Reply

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