By Cole Tracy
New York, NY – Those who know of Allen Frame’s work prior to this exhibition may see cinematic still images that are distilled with an uneasiness and ambiguity. As a gay man who grew up in the south, he was used to dealing with a severe duality of the conservatism touted by the south, as well as the progressive and accepting community in which he found himself a central figure within while spending several years in his hometown after college in Greenville, Mississippi. His images usually revolve around personal experience, yet always transcend into an unknowable narrative and mysterious quality that is evocative of cinema.
Or, like myself, you may recall his images embedded in your memory from being on the cover of books by cult writer Roberto Bolano. The publishers smartly paired these two artists together, and it’s easy to see why. In Bolano’s “Last Evenings on Earth,” the cover (“Mariachis,” Mexico City, 2000) is of several Mexican gun-toting musicians, on a blurry and misty night, strutting powerfully in front of a car. The stories are filled with a similar notion of place yet lack of full understanding. Bolano wrote much about being a writer and existing in Southern America, mixing fantasy and reality with ease. In these stories, Bolano combines the atmosphere of Southern American cities with his personal life of writers and adventures tinged with his slightly neurotic creativity, which brightly features homicides.
In some of the stories, there are men in exile, hiding from governments or hit men; he deals with death and violence regularly while mixing them with the life of a writer. Frame’s images, nine 26″ by 39″ grainy black and white photographs, have all been used within Bolano’s covers. There is a definitive noir aesthetic which adds to the alluring mysterious quality.
In the image “Jonas, London,” a naked man sits crookedly in a wooden chair, smoking a cigarette; the walls are stained and the room is bare. The singular light bulb, which hovers directly above the man’s head, creates a dramatic shadow which makes us unable to see his eyes. The photograph has deep psychological notions about this man, as well as an insinuated intimacy with the man behind the camera. Frame has a personal relationship with many of the people he photographs and the situations within this image makes that clear, the honesty of the moment pushes one further to consider Frame’s experience and only adds to the puzzling narrative.
In “Adriana, Barcelona, 1997,” we see a darkly lit room, again, with a bottle of wine on a desk as a woman briskly enters with what appears to be a gun in her hand. She is silhouetted and framed by the door. It looks like they are in an office, with several chairs surrounding the desk, some flowers and a sculpture. All of Frame’s photographs are natural, and combine condensed emotions with the reality of these candid shots to produce personal photographs that are simultaneously mysterious narratives that could have been reproduced from Bolano’s own sentences or “The Maltese Falcon.”
Bolano’s resurgence and relevance today lies in his implacable nature. Where most Latin American writers are known for their magic realism (Jorge Luis Borges), or localism (Baldomero Lillo), Bolano defies these labels at every turn. The stories have a personal, political edge that addresses the high volume of violence commonplace in much of Latin America, while still indulging in his creative fantasies.
Frame, too, is un-categorizable as an artist, for unlike photographers
like Nan Goldin, he is not only documenting his own group of counter
cultural friends, or like many of the street photographers of his time,
taking pictures of people candidly in cities. His images are
simultaneously familiar and unknown, for we are aware that these images
come from his personal experience; yet they are not read this way and are
not definitive of the reality of the situations. They exist between a
created narrative and personal experience.
Frame was greatly influenced by neo-realist Italian filmmakers (especially Antonioni) and the atmosphere that they focused on in their films as well as the noir aesthetic. The darkness is what is most stunning about Frame’s photographs. The shadows envelop the people as the grain does, distancing the viewer from the situation while making them even more curious. The gallery celebrates the intersection of these two artists without pushing it into the viewers face, making the show accessible to all viewers.
(The Allen Frame exhibition ran from November 7, 2013 through January 11, 2014 at Gitterman Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, Suite 1103, New York, New York. For more information, call (212) 734-0868 or visit gittermangallery.com.)