Volume 3: Frank Ockenfels III and the art of photography

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If you are a photography lover, a rock and cinema aficionado or simply interested in drawing and graphics, you cannot miss a very interesting publication of these days. A big and heavy photographic book reunites all these things inside its pages. His author, Frank Ockenfels III, is one of the most talented, bizarre and particular American artists. I was lucky enough to interview him a couple of years ago and defining him simply a photographer is honestly too reductive. Without knowing it, you have certainly seen some of his works, as posters and teasers, of famous movies from the latest series on Netflix: Jason Bourne, Green Book, Split, Harry Potter, The Expendables, Lucy, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, El Camino, The Boys, American Horror Story and The Walking Dead are some examples from a much longer list. This is his ‘official’ job, the commercial and normalized version of his creative oestrus.

For over 30 years Ockenfels has never spent a day without taking a picture of everything that could be photographed: the future president of the USA Barack Obama, himself, a component of his own family, a new or old star of rock music or again the main character of the last blockbuster. Doing this he has always tested new uncommon lents applied to very old cameras, he has never worried about the digital results of his shots, preferring the film negative and, above all, the ‘accidents’, trusting in his own intuition. Some examples are the incredible shots  – with a ‘classic’ style – to a very young Michael Stipe, to the rapper Snoop Dogg or the actresses Christina Ricci, Drew Barrymore and Milla Jovovich.

The secret of his talent is may be the curiosity, together with an enormous will to experiment. For example with the light that passes through his cameras and the shadows on the face of the subject: for example those obtained from the wrinkles of the composer Philip Glass and the writer Norman Mailer, or those searched on the perfect and young faces of his two sons, Gwen Stefani, Natalie Portman, Macaulay Culkin or Uma Thurman. They all become a very personal quest, both aesthetically and psychologically. He loves – but also needs – to express his creativity with uncommon collages. Sometimes with simple sequences of the same person: George Clooney, Pamela Anderson and David Bowie are only examples among who have enjoyed the game making funny faces.

Another trademark is his humour: you can perceive it from the sketches, the littles skeletons, the symbols and the drawings that he does on the photos, or the little funny monsters obtained combining different images. Maybe the most known (but the least extreme) photograph is the close-up to a just became famous Angelina Jolie: the frame broken in two pieces, a little red dart on the left eyebrow and a big X on the fleshy lips. Frank has even found a way to turn his dysgraphia into art, integrating words, sentences or real texts – deliciously incomprehensible – in his own collages.

In this wonderful book of over 200 pages you will also find a fetish for the female bodies and the several visual experiments with an infinite number of models, getting close to the obscene. But always with an exquisite taste for experimentation. Nobody is like him. No-one keeps playing with the tools of his job, a real divertissement. In his home studio, Frank goes on making and stacking big hand-crafted black books, to satisfy his pleasure. A collection of his consciousness obtained with photographic paper, colours, scissors and glue. A few from this emerges on his two official Instagram pages.

Ockenfels has always been reluctant to publish a book (previously he released only a 100 hundred self-produced and signed collection of his works), Volume 3 (the title is a joke named by his surname) is a miracle, but only the tip of the iceberg. You have to know that he has also beautifully photographed the most respected rockers: Kurt Cobain, Henry Rollins, Soundgarden, Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop… and again, he is the man who has shot the longest list of the greatest drectors: James Cameron, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Altman, George Miller, David Lynch, Spike Lee…

A different matter is his work with David Bowie. Ockenfels is the artist who has done the largest number of shootings with The Thin White Duke. Since 1991, when he literally “painted with light” the bodies of the Tin Machine, until 2002. 16 different collaborations, only a small part surfaced on the booklets of the albums and on magazines, and something only in a digital way on the Internet. Too much is still hidden and inedited, though the Starman himself, before disappearing from the media at the beginning of the Naughtiest, had encouraged a proper publication, unfortunately cancelled because of an editorial inconvenience. Maybe Volume 3 would be a good first step in that direction.

The book is superbly printed in North Italy (Trento Printer) and it’s only a part of a wider archive. Everything is treasured inside a stylish black cover, where you can observe a black and white close-up, rigorously scribbled on, of David Lynch.

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