The more you stare at Claiborne Swanson Frank’s portraits of women, the more your mind wonders - Who are these women? Where did they come from and what was the message about themselves that they were trying to convey when they sat for these portraits? The image that initially could seem banal starts to tell you stories that could come from some knowledge you have about that person, but also tales of a life that solely lives in your imagination, because for many, the subject of the portrait is unknown. It’s almost like staring at the Mona Lisa and trying to understand what was going on at her time, what drove her to sit for that portrait and what her life was like.
In American Beauty, Mrs. Frank wants to tell us stories of success and achievements, of women who excel in what they do, women who had a dream and a vision for themselves and followed through with it, and through their lives bring out the true beauty, that for Claiborne lives in women everywhere.
Throughout more than one hundred portraits amalgamated in this book you get the opportunity to know at least a little bit about the lives of these women, and you get to understand why the photographer felt inspired to shoot them. Through these portraits you also get the opportunity to learn a little bit more about the author, since much of her passions and inspirations are reflected in the subjects of her photographs.
Here Claiborne shares her thoughts on her most important creation thus far, the book American Beauty.
In your book there is a quote by Carrie Latet about never waking up from the American dream. Do you feel you live the American dream - or at least what that would dream would be like nowadays?
I’ve been so blessed and I am so honored, I am definitely living my dream, but I believe the American dream is more about the idea of reaching for your greatest potential. Each of the women in this book for instance, are a product of their own American dream, and that is the message here, I have never met two women with the same dream, they all come from different places and have different stories to tell, and I tell their stories through portrait.
What was the criteria when choosing your subjects?
As an artist I have to be inspired and these are all women who are contributing to society in some way, but then there was an intuitive choice and the inspiration I felt coming from these women.
Through this experience of discovering the lives of these women, did you also come upon things about yourself that you were unaware of?
Definitely! This project started out as a portfolio of my work, which took the form of an exhibition, which then led to this book. Because I wanted to have a genuine collaboration to show who these women were I think I also grew into myself and who I was meant to be, I became an artist. It’s been a true gift to follow my own heart and vision and learn that I didn’t really know who I was before.
Did you know from the start that you would have such a diverse group of women as a result of your work?
I was thoughtful about that and I wanted to celebrate diversity, the country is in a different place now, and over the past ten years women have taken a different place in society and what they represent to American women. Even looking at myself I see such a mutt, I am American with a Cuban, Swedish, German and French mix and that’s also why I love asking people when I meet them what is their background, because what makes us so beautiful is our mix.
And how about the men in your life? Will they have the opportunity to show their beauty through the lenses of your camera?
Not really, I don’t think so; I have an amazing husband and I love men, but my ability and comfort zone is in finding and trying to capture the beauty in women, to me women are the perfect representation of beauty, and that’s what I like to photograph, that’s what inspires me. Also, I find that most men don’t like to be photographed nowadays, and I think it’s a shame, men used to enjoy being documented at some point and it changed with time, but I do believe that every great man should have a great portrait.