I was walking along Bleecker Street in Manhattan a few years ago in search of doorways to photograph. I was looking for rough old doors, which were fading fast as Manhattan gentrified. Sometimes people would catch my eye too, and I saw an old man sitting in front of a green door. But he was watching me, so I pretended to shoot the façade above him, and as I moved my phone down I snapped him. He was still looking directly at me.
I posted the shot to Instagram. “That’s Robert Fucking Frank!!!” said photographer Mikhael Subotsky. Jim Goldberg agreed.
Frank was considered by many to be the most influential photographer alive. His book The Americans, published in 1959, changed photography from the carefully composed classical style of the time, to what the New York Times referred to in his obituary (he passed away in 2019, 2 years after I’d photographed him), as “the snapshot aesthetic”, “a personal offhand style that sought to capture the look and feel of spontaneity in an authentic moment.”
Watching YouTube videos of him, it was clear he’d grown weary of New York, he felt its soul had changed as bankers moved into the lofts where artists used to live, as people were displaced by gentrification, as wealth took over. I’m not a New Yorker, but I’ve been visiting for 20 years now, taking photographs of doorways and building details as I walk the streets. I can imagine his sadness. The art supply stores I used to shop at have closed down as rentals rise, artists have long left Manhattan, seedy bars and quirky stores have been replaced by sterile chains, characterful run-down old buildings now gleam for tourists.
Lately I’ve been going through old photographs of doorways, covered in graffiti and bills. I wish I’d taken more, but I did catch some over the years – there aren’t many left. I put them together in a kind of streetscape, with Robert Frank peering out from the centre.
The end result – Robert Frank & the forgotten doors of New York
Giclee print on Tecco Matt paper – 81 x 102 cm – an edition of 50 only