Soon after moving to American the late 1850s, a German baker named Frederick Schmid very quickly changed his name to plain old Fred Smith. His wife, Hermine Selinger Smith, was a singer in the local German beer halls and theatres. The couple had a son, Eugene in 1865. Eugene Smith became Eugene Frank, one of the first university-level professors of photography in the world and a founding member of The Photo-Secession an early 20th century movement that promoted photography as a fine art and promoted for the first time the idea that a photographer could control, create & manipulate an image rather than simply mechanically document it.
By 1880, young Eugene began to photograph for amusement, likely while he was at the City College of New York. He moved to Munich in 1886 to go to the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts. There he studied drawing and stage design and, when he left he worked as a theatrical portraitist, drawing the portraits of actors & actresses. Eugene kept up his photography and on his return to the States in 1899 he exhibited his work at New York’s Camera Club under the pseudonym Frank Eugene. The name stuck and would work well for him. A lot better perhaps than Eugene Smith would have. Of Eugene and his work, the eminent critic (and anarchist) Sadakichi Hartmann said, “It is the first time that a truly artistic temperament, a painter of generally recognized accomplishments and ability asserts itself in American photography.” Another reviewer wasn’t so sure, commenting that his work was “unphotographic photography.”
Eugene was now a known quantity. A year later he’d shown his work in London, and was elected to The Linked Ring, the pre-eminent English photographic society whose aims were similar to those of the Photo-Secessionists. Most importantly, as the critic Hartmann had noticed, Eugene, influence by his art school training, had a very singular style. Eugene was progressive with it too. He manipulated his negatives aggressively, scratching them and applying brush strokes. He created prints that blended painting and photography, bridging the two. Making photography, art.
In 1901 Eugene travelled to Egypt, and by 1906 he’d moved back to Munich permanently. In 1913 the son of a baker and a beer hall singer was appointed Royal Professor of Pictorial Photography by the Royal Academy of the Graphic Arts of Leipzig.
Eugene Frank, whilst being overshadowed by his contemporaries, shot many things, had a long and distinguished career, and throughout it like a thread, he shot women. Etherial, grainy, painterly women.
Classic, and class, doesn’t date.