Weekend Photographer

Frank Larson (1896-1964) was not a really great photographer, but was a dedicated and very good one, whose work during his lifetime seems only to have been shared with his family and friends and with the local photographic society, never becoming widely known. After his early death (a consequence of ill heath because his lungs were damaged by mustard gas in World War 1) his negatives, mainly taken with his Rolleiflex, but with a few 35mm, laid forgotten but carefully packed in a cardboard box for 45 years.

In 2009 his younger son’s widow came across them in an attic and showeed them to her son, TV news cameraman/producer Soren Larson, who was “truly shocked at the quality and range of the images, as well as the effort, dedication and love (his grandfather) brought to the task” and realised they were “like a trip back in time, back to the New York of the early 50’s.” He decided to set up a web site to show them “to whomever is interested – lovers of New York, of the decade of the 1950’s, or just those who admire a good photograph.”

Frank Larson spent around 40 years working in a bank, ending up as an auditor there until he retired in 1960. Although he’d been a keen photographer since the 1920s, it was after his two sons left home by 1949 that he bagan to leave his home in the commuter suburb of Flushing at dawn virtually every Sunday and travel into the centre of New York to take photographs. After he retired in 1960, he and his wife moved around a hundred miles away from New York to Lakeville, Connecticut, and his regular photography there presumably ended, so the photographs cover roughly the decade of the 1950s.

Larson’s work was noted on the web and in the press, with an article in 2011 on PetaPixel, and in the New York Times, and an exhibition at the Perfect Exposure Gallery in San Francisco, and in 2012 at at the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing. More recently they have feautred on My Modern Met and Creative Boom.

It would be wrong to think (as a few have done) of Larson as another Vivian Maier, but both of them do illustrate the wealth of ‘unknown’ photography that there is out there, some stored in attics or storage units, but probably most now in landfill (perhaps to be excavated by archaelogists of a future civilisation arriving from a more advanced planet that has avoided the extinction which our own species now appears dead-set on.)

Neither Larson or Meier produced work of any significance in the history of the medium, but both have images of interest. Clearly Maier was a more adventurous photographer, following so many trends, but Larson’s work is that of a craftsman who has found his way to work and sticks with it. I’m not surprised that he did well in some photo club competitions – and I say that both positively and negatively.

I still remember Peter Turner (then editor of Creative Camera) coming to the camera club I was then a rather rebellious member of and being treated with anguished gasps and stony silences as he laid into the works of the most highly respected club members (many with FRPS to their name and several past Presidents of that ancient body) and sheer disbelief at his appreciation of images that had come at the bottom of the member’s votes.

Unlike Maier, there is little or no mystery about Larson’s life and work, no law suits or struggles about copyright and ownership, and relatively little money being made. His grandson, according to the web site, is making and selling ‘archival inkjet prints’ prints (though only to US addresses) at prices that seem very reasonable – less than one tenth of dealer prices for Vivian Maier prints.

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