The Eye Club: Fraenkel Gallery

by Alex Novak


Share This

Share on facebookShare on twitterShare on linkedinShare on pinterestShare on tumblrShare via email

The Fraenkel Gallery has always been known for its high quality catalogues and occasionally quirky image choices. It is somehow endearing for a high profile, upscale gallery to spotlight $200-300 prints within the context of other high-end images.

So when the gallery decided to celebrate its 25th anniversary, you had to know that the accompanying catalogue would be a real doozey. And it is. Hardbound and nearly an inch and a quarter thick, this beautifully printed work includes 236 pages of nearly 100 examples of fine photography attractively presented. It is probably the single finest photography dealer catalogue I have ever seen.

Apparently in the works for about three years, this catalogue (it is really more a book than a catalogue) is superbly designed and thought out. The collection of images captured here is an eclectic one, tied together by the remarkable eyes of Jeffrey Fraenkel and Frish Brandt, the gallery's principals and the "editors" for this book. Yes, they have somewhat themed the images into groups, but it is their strong eye for great photographs that really holds the catalogue/book together so well. The use of cutouts to show only a part of the photograph behind teases the viewer into trying to guess something about the work behind the "mask".

The title for the catalogue, The Eye Club, was taken from a nickname given by Eugenia Janis Parry to the group of early collectors, dealers and curators who celebrated photography, although Fraenkel notes, "the Eye Club can now be considered to include anyone still open to the sensual, intellectual, and less specifiable thrills of contemplating a good photograph."

As with many of the past Fraenkel catalogues, there are some "small" anonymous or nearly anonymous photographs along with the blockbusters by the powerhouse names. All are chosen to challenge the viewers' perceptions about iconic photography. Few are images that you would have seen before, but most are wonderful examples of the art, and a few are stunning and magical in their presence.

Just a modest selection of the images that I covet from the book include: Ralston Crawford's Ship Ventilator, Imogen Cunningham's False Hellebore, Eugène Atget's Magasin, Avenue of the Gobelins, Paul Strand's Rebecca and his Wheel Organization, Andreas Gursky's Prada III, Lee Friedlander's Baton Rouge, Helen Levitt's New York, Diane Arbus' New York Skyline in a Lobby, Louis-Pierre-Théophile Dubois de Nehaut's La Prato, Bruxelles, John Whipple's daguerreotype of Three Sisters, and, of course, the masterful Carleton Watkins' Cape Horn Near Celilo.

Jeff Fraenkel says it all in his introduction, "Photography persists as an unruly medium. Here follows an unruly group of photographs, brought together in the open-eyed spirit of the Eye Club to mark the gallery's twenty-fifth year."

The catalogue is available from many bookstores and the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CA, for $65, plus shipping. You can contact the gallery at or at 1-415-981-2661. Buy it soon. It will shortly become a collector's item itself.

Novak has over 42 years experience in the photography-collecting arena. He is a long-time member and formally board member of the Daguerreian Society, and, when it was still functioning, he was a member of the American Historical Photographic Society. He organized the 2016 19th-century Photography Show and Conference for the Daguerreian Society. He is also a long-time member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers. Novak has been a member of the board of the nonprofit Photo Review, which publishes both the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector, and is currently on the Photo Review's advisory board. He was a founding member of the Getty Museum Photography Council. He is author of French 19th-Century Master Photographers: Life into Art.

Novak has had photography articles and columns published in several newspapers, the American Photographic Historical Society newsletter, the Photograph Collector and the Daguerreian Society newsletter. He writes and publishes the E-Photo Newsletter, the largest circulation newsletter in the field. Novak is also president and owner of Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, a private photography dealer, which sells by appointment and at exhibit shows, such as AIPAD New York and Miami, Art Chicago, Classic Photography LA, Photo LA, Paris Photo, The 19th-century Photography Show, etc.