Rocks Are People, too.

Last week, after I posted about Leona Frank’s paintings of wildflowers on the Thimble Islands, off the coast of Connecticut, she sent me a folder of her husband Dick’s black-and-white photographs of the rock formations there. “This is the first of a series of collaborations we’re doing, based on the same natural site we’ll explore,” she wrote. “Our interpretations will often be different, and sometimes will overlap.”

I’ve known Leona and Dick for more than 30 years. Richard Frank is one of New York’s top people photographers. I don’t say ‘portrait photographers,’ because he’s not one of those Karsh-studio-portrait guys. With wit and style, he captures the essence of people in their natural habitats, be they boardrooms, operating rooms, trading floors, theatrical stages, design studios, or out in the wild. I’ve had the pleasure of accompanying him as art director on many photo shoots, and his gift is creating a stellar composition, even in impossibly small and unpromising locations. His trademark patter with subjects is “grin” and “grim”—when he’s asking for serious as well as smiling expressions and poses.

But rocks? Richard Frank shoots rocks? Well, maybe that makes sense. Rocks don’t talk back, wiggle, cancel appointments, try to art direct the shot themselves, and threaten to fire you if you don’t do what they ask for. Yeah, after dealing with clients, rocks do make perfect sense.

Here’s what Dick has to say about that: “Years ago, I believed that photographers were either ‘people’ photographers (Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander) or ‘rocks, trees and moss’ photographers (Edward Weston and family, Ansel Adams, Aaron Siskind). A photographer had to make a choice, something like being a Democrat or a Republican. Now with modestly priced, small, quality digital cameras, photographers are liberated and can be in both schools.

“I’m still a people photographer and am most proud of the ten years of freelance assignments I did with writer Frank Graham, Jr. for Audubon magazine,” he added. “There were many sweet moments being part of the team of writer, editor, designer and photographer.

“When Leona went to sketch and paint on Outer Island, I decided to come along and bring my camera. I really enjoyed the process of discovering the bold compositions of the granite boulders as well as observing the harsh light. The images were captured with a Canon G9 camera — the best toy I’ve ever had — a sophisticated point-and-shoot camera. I used Apple Aperture software to convert to black-and-white and tweak the images. The collaboration and communication with Leona on this type of project was a first for us. We are eager to do more.”

Bravo! But why, Dick, do your rocks look so much like people?

About writedesigner

Graphic designer, writer, and gardener Ellen Shapiro is based in Irvington, New York. A frequent contributor to design blogs and magazines including Print, Imprint,, Communication Arts, and Etapes, she writes about trends, issues and personalities in design, illustration, photography, and visual culture around the world.
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