Ace International Photographers (Series): Martine Franck


I came across a great quote from Martine Franck that said:

“What I like most about photography is the moment that you can’t anticipate: you have to be constantly watching for it, ready to welcome the unexpected.”

When I delved deeper into knowing who she was and what she did to arrive at such a deep understanding of this art, I landed on her Wikipedia page which described her as a famous Belgian documentary and portrait photographer. It goes on to mention that she was the second wife Henry Cartier-Bresson (French photographer), who is accredited as the father of photojournalism and candid photography. It was him who developed the street photography or life reportage style of photography which later came to known as “The Decisive Moment” influencing thousands of photographers till today.

Franck has remained the member of Magnum Photos, an international photographic cooperative which is owned and run by its photographer-members with its offices located in New York, Tokyo, Paris and London, for 32 years.

“Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.” said Martine Franck, co-founder of the Henri Cartier-Bresson on her association with Magnum Photos.

Franck didn’t always wanted to be a photographer. In fact she turned to photography only after she struggled with her thesis (on French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and the influence of cubism on sculpture) as a student of art history in University of Madrid. Once she decided on her career of choice, she started assisting with photographers such as Eliot Elisofon and Gjon Mili at Time-Life in Paris in 1963. Franck then went on to working for a photo agency Vu from 1970-71 and later co-founded her own photo agency Viva in 1972.

Frank met Cartier-Bresson for the first time in 1966 at the Paris fashion shows where he was taking pictures for the New York Times. ‘Martine, I want to come and see your contact sheets.’” was the opening line that Cartier-Bresson said to Franck, which was told by her during a 2010 interview.

With time her work earned her recognition and she became a busy freelance photographer with Vogue, Life and Sports Illustrated. She also had the honour of being the official photographer for Théâtre du Soleil for as long as 48 years. Franck was made a chevalier of the French Légion d’Honneur in 2005 and has nine photo books to her credit.

Her first solo exhibition took place in 1970 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. The show however was cancelled later when she came to know that the invitations had the name of Cartier-Bresson and promised his attendance during the launch. This seems passé now but she preferred to give higher priority to Cartier-Bresson’s career as her own.

Franck went onto establishing the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation with her daughter in 2003 with an aim to promote his photojournalistic style of photography.

Her documentary-styled photographs of popular cultural figures such as painter Marc Chagall, philosopher Michel Foucault and poet Seamus Heaney and marginalized communities like Tibetan Buddhist monks, elderly French people, and isolated Gaelic speakers had earned her many accolades. As cited by Franck, her portraits were inspired by the works of British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, American photojournalist Dorothea Lange and American documentary photographer Margaret Bourke-White.

While describing her passion for photography she said it “suits my curiosity about people and human situations.” in an interview given to the Times. She mostly worked in outside the studio conditions and used the 35mm Leica Camera with a preference for the black-and-white film. Her work is described by the British Royal Photographic Society saying her work is “firmly rooted in the tradition of French humanist documentary photography.”

Frank was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010 and breathed her last in Paris in 2012 ending an era in photography.

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Sources: Pleasurephotoroom, Casablocklegrenierdechocotheguardian, Wikipedia

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