End of an era or time

Sara Driver honours her friend Robert Frank

by Anne-Katrin Titze and Sara Driver

Sara Driver on her friend Robert Frank: "His straight forward photos often speak volumes."
Sara Driver on her friend Robert Frank: "His straight forward photos often speak volumes." Photo: Lisa Rinzler

Sara Driver, director of Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years Of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sleepwalk, and You Are Not I, and recently seen in Jim Jarmusch's 2019 Cannes Film Festival opener The Dead Don't Die, sent the following personal remembrance in honour of her and Jim's friend Robert Frank, who died on September 9, in Inverness, Nova Scotia, at the age of 94, and his wife June Leaf, who survived him.

Sara Driver: “Wim Wenders sent a picture from Butte Montana that was taken a week before Robert’s death. It is out of the same window in the same hotel where Robert photographed Butte for The Americans in 1950.”
Sara Driver: “Wim Wenders sent a picture from Butte Montana that was taken a week before Robert’s death. It is out of the same window in the same hotel where Robert photographed Butte for The Americans in 1950.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Weirdly enough a week before Robert Frank died. I checked the news. I had a feeling. I realise after contacting many of his friends and admirers. They all had similar thoughts the days before he died. Wim Wenders sent a picture from Butte Montana that was taken a week before Robert’s death. It is out of the same window in the same hotel where Robert photographed Butte for The Americans in 1950. A book that changed how photography was approached going forward. He was a photographers’ photographer and he was very human. He saw things other people didn’t.

"On the day his death was announced. I ran into the filmmaker Amos Poe. He had been looking at Robert’s photographs. He mentioned a photograph of a very black nurse holding a very white baby. I remember that image from Life Magazine. It was one I saw in elementary school and never forgot. That image depicts past, and present racism in America. His straight forward photos often speak volumes. And later in his career he wrote or painted on his photographs. One I can’t stop thinking about is the photograph taken out the window in his Mabou, Canada home - 'Sick of Good-byes'.

Sara Driver on Robert Frank and June Leaf: “He and June both role models for artists to listen to their own voices.”
Sara Driver on Robert Frank and June Leaf: “He and June both role models for artists to listen to their own voices.” Photo: courtesy of Grasshopper Films

"Robert and June, it feels like the end of an era or time. No more going over and knocking on their door unannounced (that’s how they liked it) and have a tea and talk. Robert would always bring out the cookies or whatever sweet was in the house. June would put on the tea, pouring it into coffee cups stained with paint. June would ask me if I knew any gossip and would pretty much always be disappointed. Robert asked about Jim. We would hang out and talk about the world, art, movies, the neighbourhood and politics.

"I love to be in June's studio, watching her work on metal sculptures and paintings. The one informing the other. I love to observe her paint and watch her problem solve. I remember visiting them in Mabou. June and I were in her forge. I left the forge to take a walk. I turned and saw Robert watch me leave. He immediately ran out of the house and into June’s forge. He loved to watch her work too.

"Going over to Bleecker St you never knew who you would meet. Robert’s son Pablo with his mischievous smile and beautiful eyes. Or Allen Ginsberg trying to read his new poetry to anyone there. But everyone objecting, not being in the mood. Or the time Robert offered me a drink. Peter Orlovsky had been over earlier in the day and drank all of Robert’s alcohol. We discovered Peter filled the bottles with water, covering his crime. Painters, Artists, Poets - you never knew who would be hanging out while Robert built a fire in the fireplace on the top floor of their house.

Flowers honouring Robert Frank in New York.
Flowers honouring Robert Frank in New York. Photo: Sara Driver

"Or the time we went to dinner with June and Robert. Only to come back to their block with a TV crew looking for ‘The Church of Unrealised Fantasy’. (It was a ‘church’ that sold pot.) Robert waving to the TV crew and flinging the door to Bleecker St open and yelling, 'It's in here!' Running inside and jumping into a newly excavated hole in the basement of their building. The TV crews filming everything till they realised it was a hoax.

"Or in 1985 when the Achilles Lauro boat hijacking happened and the hijackers demanded identification of passengers with Jewish sounding names. The next day Robert was wearing a hand-made T-shirt. He had written on it 'Jewish Sounding Name'.

"Or thinking about the time Robert had to destroy images from the Americans. He and Gunther (his friend and a local electrician, who had an impressive grin due to a missing tooth) were drilling holes through a big stack of photographs. Jim stopped by for a visit. Robert gave him a photograph for us called 'Teardrop, NJ diner'. An image of a car parked outside of a snowy diner with a small jukebox on the table with the song 'teardrop'.

Sara Driver with Jim Jarmusch and Robert Frank: “We would hang out and talk about the world, art, movies, the neighbourhood and politics.”
Sara Driver with Jim Jarmusch and Robert Frank: “We would hang out and talk about the world, art, movies, the neighbourhood and politics.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Later I saw the drilled stack with huge screws keeping the photos together displayed in the Whitney during Robert’s retrospective. That’s so Robert, told to get rid of photographs and instead turns them into something else! They are still his photographs damn it! For Robert it was all about the process. And although known as photographer. Robert was always re-inventing himself. As soon as he had worldwide acclaim as a photographer. He switched to film. His film as understated but as powerful as his photographs.

"Jim met Robert at the Big Muddy Film Festival in 1980. They became friends and discovered we lived very close to each other in downtown NYC. Soon all four of us were hanging out.

"One of the last times I saw Robert was when June and I brought him a sandwich. He was lying in bed, basking in the sunlight like a cat. He held the sandwich up and said, 'I used to have sex in the afternoon and now all I get is this sandwich'. June and I laughed. Robert was always funny like that. He gave us so very much.

"His photos, his films, his truth, his 'don’t let the fuckers get you' policy - He and June both role models for artists to listen to their own voices. He gave us so many incredible gifts. Thank you, Robert.”

- Sara Driver

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