American art historian and Case Western Reserve University art history professor Henry Adams has written extensively about painters like Thomas Hart Benton, Thomas Eakins, Jackson Pollock, Andrew Wyeth and Grant Wood. Now he turns his attention to photographer Abe Frajndlich, whose images of major photographers from the past half-century have earned him a place alongside them as one of the greats.
Adams writes about Frajndlich in the introduction to the artist’s new book, Penelope’s Hungry Eyes: Portraits of Famous Photographers. Additionally, he will join Frajndlich and Duane Michals, a photographer featured in the book and known for his work in sequences, in a talk at the New York Public Library on Dec. 7 to discuss the book and photography in America.
Frajndlich is among photographers such as Annie Leibovitz, Serge Cohen and Cindy Sherman who have created a post-modern language for photography, Adams said.
Frajndlich’s early years directly influenced and launched his photography career, and those events, Adams revealed, have their origins on the Case Western Reserve campus.
In 1970, Minor White was gaining recognition as one of America’s great photographers and was also the editor of the leading photography magazine of the time, Aperture. During White’s three-day workshop for Case Western Reserve photography students, Frajndlich, an unregistered student, was in the audience.
Frajndlich heard about the lecture while using the former Department of Architecture’s photo lab, where he printed photographs that he sold on Hessler Street for $7 a print to pay his portion of rent, $32, for an East 115th house he shared with others.
“I did my first serious photography in the campus darkroom,” Frajndlich said in a phone interview.
Frajndlich and White became acquainted through conversations after the workshop lectures. This led to an invitation by White to have Frajndlich come live in his house in the Boston area. The agreement was that Frajndlich (who had dropped out of the doctoral program in English at Northwestern University) would use his English skills to edit White’s writing, and, in turn, White would teach Frajndlich photography. This arrangement lasted from the fall of 1970 to the summer of 1971 and again in the spring of 1975 to the end of 1976, six months after White died.
Among the book’s images, Frajndlich includes one he took of White in 1972 and later published in his book, Lives I’ve Never Lived. That portrait is included in the new book along with ones that Frajndlich captured as a photographer for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Magazine, where he got his big break by filling a position vacated by Annie Leibovitz—who had left to become a photographer for Vanity Fair.
Adams wrote that Frajndlich was born in Germany to parents who survived the Holocaust. He came to Cleveland at the age of 10 to live with an aunt and uncle and spent his adolescent years here. His childhood years are a story worthy of a novel or movie, with two mothers, three fathers, seven languages and life on several continents.
With the death of Frajndlich’s mother and father, Adams said, the photographer’s early memories are rooted in family snapshots. Perhaps this lies at the root of his passionate commitment to photography as a medium.
Adams is hopeful that Frajndlich’s book will open the public’s eyes to “Abe’s work and its language, which has become so much part of our daily living that we often don’t stop and think about the decisions that went into making the pictures.”