The Eternal Imagery of Frank Hamrick
article by Mary Napoli | photography by Martin G Meyers
He wanted her 35mm plastic camera. She wanted his hat. So, they made the trade. His 12 year-old sister walked away with a light blue, straw hat that had originally belonged to their grandfather. Ten year-old Frank Hamrick walked away with the tool that would be responsible for his future career.
Hamrick is an an artisan in the truest sense. From a young age, he found both solace and joy in the act of creating art and forming objects from materials found in nature. While his artistic talents are many, he is best known for his extraordinary photographs. His eye is constantly observing the beauty of simplicity–what some might recognize only as commonplace or mundane, the way an aged tree has gently grown its body around the prickly wires of a fence intended to keep others away. The way a lake produces gentle, ever-changing shadows in its perpetual movement, through his lens, every day, natural beauty becomes a fascinating work of art.
Hamrick moved to the North Delta region to serve as Assistant Professor in Photography at Louisiana Tech nearly ten years ago. He is a well traveled Southerner who finds inspiration in the various natural landscapes of the places he has visited and lived–New Mexico, Maine, Italy, and the American South, among others. His subject matter is vast, but it most often depicts the subtle beauty of a rural setting. Although he is not from Louisiana originally, his aesthetic is something residents can closely identify with.
“I grew up outside of Macon, Georgia, in a rural environment near two dairies and a ranch. There was a lot of open space and woods to explore, so a lot of my time was spent out in the woods either with a friend that lived nearby with our dogs or by myself…In some ways, the culture and the land here is really similar to where I am from in Georgia, so I feel pretty at home,” he shares.
The similar landscapes and terrain give Hamrick the comfort of familiarity. He enjoys nature in a variety of ways–by observing the beauty of the forest or by the process of planting and tending to the gardens that he regularly keeps. In any form, he is endlessly talented at capturing the ethereal beauty of nature that surrounds him.
What is striking about the photographs Hamrick produces is not only the composition or the way light dances on the subject, but the intrinsic timelessness that has been captured. Each image is a moment in time, a sigh, a thought recalled in a flash. That visual experience translates to each person differently, often bringing back a memory that, until that moment, had been just out of reach. The photos allow the viewer to appreciate that specific time in a way that life often can not, because the moment leaves too soon–the shadows an ancient tree casts upon a body of water, the gentle curve of tall grass that shelters a pensive animal. Scenes may appear ordinary upon first glance, but the beauty lies in the details. The images are timeless, and the emotion that can be found in the stillness reaches out and leaves an indelible mark upon the viewer.
“I like images that can be interpreted in different ways and people can project on to them. I tell my students: every image shows something, but good images usually suggest something beyond what you are seeing,” he explains with sincerity in his voice. “What I would like for my work to do is to provide a starting point Maybe it doesn’t answer all your questions, but it gives you a place to wonder from. Some images suggest a place, and then you are left to go from there in your mind.”
He is a young man, but dedicated to the pursuit of learning the historical methods of his craft to further evolve in his profession. He is adept at capturing breathtaking images with the modern technology of a digital camera, but deeply enjoys using methods of photography that have long since passed. He uses an 8×10 large format view camera to create images on tin types, similar to cameras that were invented in the 19th century. The results are images that are impactful, yet as fragile as a dry leaf in winter.
His fascination with alternative process began during his time as a graduate student in photography at the University of Georgia and led him to explore other crafts, such as paper making. When a classmate informed him of her experience at a book press in Atlanta where she had been an intern, Hamrick was interested to learn more. He was able to secure an internship at the same book press and was introduced to the concept of “artists’ books.” This particular book press specialized in creating books for artists in which to showcase their work. There, Hamrick first became “taken with the possibilities of a book.” He began to understand that books not only contained art through the images on their pages, but as an object of beauty themselves.
“The book itself can be the work of art. The shape of it, the pages, the way it opens and closes, and things like that,” he explains.
For his work at the book press, he was rewarded with the opportunity to make his own book. He chose to make a small book that showcased a collection of black and white photographs he had taken. He was enchanted by the way a handmade book of photography gave a completely different physical experience than viewing framed images on a wall.
“I like how a book can do that. You can have multiple images or images with writing. [The photos affect] the way the book is put together, the size, the color scheme, all sorts of things. It becomes a tactile experience. It’s also a personal experience, because you are holding it. Whereas when you have artwork on the wall, you can’t touch it. When you are holding a book, there is also the aspect that other people can’t see what you are looking at, so it’s a personal experience. It is intimate in a way. Or you can share it, and pass it along to someone else. You can’t exactly do that with a picture on the wall–here, take this and get it back to me when you are done with it. But with a book, you can do that.”
He enjoyed watching people interact with the book, each viewing an individual experience. He also realized that this was an easy way to connect with other artists and to create opportunities to further his work.
“I was with another artist who asked what I had been doing, and I pulled the book out of my coat pocket. It was something you could hold in your hand. That book had about 15 pages in it, so you could see a little body of work. I compare [the books] to an album with 10-15 songs on it. If you listen to one song on the radio, you probably won’t get a good sense of what that artist is capable of. But if you listen to an album, you have a much more accurate representation of the work.”
Combining his talents in book making and photography opened doors for Hamrick, and his books began to get noticed. His unique approach caught the eye of individuals and multiple galleries throughout the U.S. Although his books now command a higher price than what they originally sold for, the books still allow him to reach a more diverse audience than he would by working with galleries exclusively. He has produced 17 books to date, with captivating titles such as Letter Never Sent and Chasing the Sun.
“Doing exhibitions can be costly. Frames, installation…it costs money. People who liked my work and my peers didn’t have the money to spend on the art. But a small book is more affordable. It was a way to make it more accessible to people, and you didn’t have to come to a gallery to see it. It can be shipped easily and more affordably. There are so many possibilities with a book.
As a craftsman, Hamrick also holds endless possibilities. He continues to grow and evolve as an artist and an educator. His observant eye and adept hands will continue to lead him to creative places he has yet to travel.
“There are different goals at different points. If you do something well and people notice that, other opportunities will come…It’s kind of like gardening. You are always investing in the future and taking chances, that you don’t know is they will pay off or not or if they will be fruitful. But, you take that chance, and hopefully it will come.”
View more of Hamrick’s work on his website www.frankhamrick.com.