Portraits of the artists: Abe Frajndlich turns his lens on the greats of photography

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Abe Frajndlich has spent two decades capturing the likenesses of the greats of photography. The results speak volumes about his relationship with his subjects – and their evasiveness when the camera is focused on them

Abe Frajndlich is what you might call a photographer's photographer. And not just because his colleagues admire his work – but because they are his work. For several decades, Frajndlich has turned his camera on the faces of those usually found behind their own. What began as a series of portraits of "Grandes Dames of Photography" for Life in 1988 was picked up and supported with funds from Kodak as an ongoing, globe-trotting project. These portraits have now been published as a book, Penelope's Hungry Eyes. The glossy volume contains more than 100 shots, intimately revealing some of the biggest names in the history of photography, from the other side of the lens.

Frajndlich's background is in English literature, from which he drew that allusive title. He wrote his thesis on Ulysses, deciding that the crucial character in James Joyce's retelling of Homer's Odyssey was the Penelope figure, k Molly. For Frajndlich, Penelope herself has "all these years of waiting [as the faithful wife of Odysseus, abroad at the Trojan War] but simultaneously building this kind of intensity... I jumped from that to the intensity I feel with every photographer – they're always hungry for more pictures."

Of course, Penelope was an arch evader, too: she ducked the advances of numerous suitors during Odysseus's 10-year absence. And Frajndlich's subjects are also slippery creatures – many avoid a direct gaze, opting for closed eyes or turned backs, framing themselves or offering a reflection.

But as much can be revealed by artful evasiveness as by full-frontal honesty, and Frajndlich stages his images to hint at his subjects' idiosyncrasies. Bill Brandt, for example, is seen peering through a magnifying glass, referencing the way Brandt used super-wide-angle lenses to distort the nude figures in his influential photographs of the 1940s.

Frajndlich adds that many photographers he snapped were introverted: "You can gain a passport with a camera in front of your face, but you don't want to be the subject. Some people absolutely refuse to be photographed. I always want to respect these people's own space but at the same time say something that opens up their work, and them."

His portrait of the fashion photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe is a case in point, with Frajndlich shooting her in the closet of her apartment, "with her clothes, and that wild dress on", as a reference to her own career.

Not everyone played ball, though: Frajndlich wanted the artist Gerhard Richter to lie with his head poking out of his own patterned rug. "He looked at me like, 'Are you crazy? I'm not going to lie in my artwork.'" In the end, he used a secretary instead, Richter standing over her, smoking.

A book, then, that says almost as much about his subjects as it does Frajndlich's own talents. For an odyssey in photography and its arch proponents, set sail here.

'Penelope's Hungry Eyes' by Abe Frajndlich is published by Schirmer/Mosel, priced £49.95

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border