The work of Frank Worth

(photo courtesy: Movieline.com)

So, for years, Frank Worth has been one of my favorite popular culture photographers. He wasn’t trained to be a photographer, didn’t seem to relish the art of it, and eventually gave up the glamour shots to go work as an official photographer for the Dodgers, but his compositions stand out starkly and are still striking the minute you see them.

While, yes, he did shoot pictures of The Stars, he had a particular ability to get the shots that others could only dream of taking. His were not the super-glossy, myth-making images churned out by the studios in the Golden Age; instead, his images held something personal, fleeting, an intimacy and rapport without being intrusive. Perhaps the key to his work was right there: since he was a freelancer and unassociated with the studios, actors knew they didn’t have to present themselves in a promotional way in front of his lens, resulting in a quiet magic.

I had seen a few images of his while I was in college, and was immediately intrigued. Subsequent searches turned up more photos, but the same ones repeatedly. Surely, I thought, someone who had this rapport with stars took more shots than this?

Well, apparently, he had taken a great many more, and kept them to himself until his death in 2000. I remember seeing his too-brief obituary and wondering where all of his images had gone, and what would happen to them next. I need wonder no longer it seems, as not only have some of the images been released to the public (with more to come gradually over the next few years), but they are also available for purchase. You can browse through the first batch here:

Frank Worth Gallery at International Images

That the images are now for sale seems bittersweet and yet somehow perfect; Worth died practically penniless, deciding to hold close some his very best shots instead of selling them for public consumption — rare restraint for a photographer, indeed, especially in comparison to today’s general shoot-to-sell ethos. It makes sense, really: his photos resonate because they contain an element of trust between photographer and subject, and to him, that trust extended beyond the frame. To sell the more intimate photos would be a violation of that trust, no matter how long ago the shutter had fired.

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