Episode 56: A Rich Frishman picture isn’t just a thousand words. It’s a story unto itself.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, some of Rich Frishman’s photographs could be novels.
Frishman was a news photographer for The Daily Herald in Everett and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize before he left to pursue freelance work.
He knows how to tell a story with a photograph, and he still sees and tells the stories of America through his camera lens.
The difference between Frishman and the rest of us who think we take good pictures is how Frishman considers his subjects.
He doesn’t just pull over on the side of the road when he sees something interesting, snap a picture and move on. Before Frishman leaves on a trip, he takes a deep dive online into the surrounding area for other photo opportunities.
“I get on Google Maps, ultimately get in the Google car – not the auto-driving one, but the one you take on the internet – and I see what is there now in this location, and is it something that hearkens back,” he said. “And then that’ll lead me to something else.”
Frishman was working on his Ghosts of Segregation photos when a planned trip to Houston led him to research sites in and around Jackson, Miss., about 440 miles northeast of Houston.
“The Negro Motorist Green Book” helped him cross-check his hunches on historically significant sites and showed him many more. In Jackson he found the modest home where a white supremacist assassinated black civil rights activist Medgar Evers on June 12, 1963. Near Philadelphia, Miss., he found the remote site where Ku Klux Klan members killed young civil rights activists James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman on June 21, 1964. Their bodies were found buried in an earthen dam.
“The Negro Motorist Green Book” was essentially a AAA guide for people of color, Frishman said.
“Back In those dark days, it was what you had to use to be safe if you were black,” he said. “Often I will use the term ‘colored,’ because in a lot of (white) communities it didn’t matter if you were African-American or Asian or Hispanic or Native American. Now it continues that way with Muslim, LGBTQ, maybe even Democrat. I have been in many places where I have felt like I was the outsider. It’s not a good feeling.”
Frishman’s images in Ghosts of Segregation touched a nerve with Sno-lsle Libraries Communications Director Ken Harvey, who lived in Jackson, Miss., in the 1960s and early 1970s.
“The work that (Frishman) had done on the Ghosts of Segregation and the images that he had selected really spoke to me, because in some way, they reawakened some memories of places and things that I had seen and experienced,” Harvey said.
Harvey was taken by the power of the images and the power of the places in his own memories.
“I often think of myself as an archaeologist, collecting data about our civilization because someday it’ll be past,” Frishman said.
Frishman certainly collects a lot of data when he’s working.
Each one of his pictures is composed of dozens or hundreds of individual images that he shoots over several hours or days, sometimes even longer. The multiple images allow him to capture far more detail and light variations than a single image could ever convey.
Frishman assembles the digital images into one masterpiece.
The results are astonishing. There‘s no pixelation, no blur, no sign that the picture is stitched together from multiple images. Even when the picture is up to 12 feet wide. The photographs are so good they hang in museums in Texas and Louisiana.
Some of Frishman’s earlier work on American Splendor and This land does look like well composed snapshots of roadside attractions, such as funky motels in California and New Mexico on old Route 66, or the curious Big Fish Restaurant on U.S. 2 in Bena, Minn.
“Yeah, I was more sanguine then. Those were fun, but I realized I lost a lot of the love for doing that when, and this is my own outlook, but I’m troubled by our politics,” Frishman said. “I’m troubled by the continuation of segregation, whether it’s the economic issues or the educational issues. So many different groups continue to live with the burden of being considered ‘the other.’
“That’s what I’m trying to eliminate. I want to spark a conversation with people I may never meet directly. These problems didn’t end with the passage of any of the Civil Rights Acts. It certainly didn’t end with the end of the Civil War or Reconstruction or the emptying of internment camps or the rescinding of the Chinese Exclusion Act. I mean, we just continue to lay this on everybody who is ‘the other.’ ”
The motivation for equality comes from Frishman’s upbringing. While the Frishman family lived comfortably in Chicago’s predominantly white suburbs, his parents were “unabashed liberals” who wanted their three children to value social justice.
“I was born in 1951,” Frishman said. “My parents made it a point to familiarize us with people who were struggling … It was the early era of the modern civil rights movement. That ingrained in all three of us kids a sense of responsibility.”
Frishman credits his father for instilling his sense of curiosity and an appreciation of architecture.
“He told us the stories of the people who made these places,” Frishman said.
That continues to frame his photography.
“I’m quite driven by our relationships as human beings,” Frishman said. “My fascination with these places I’m now photographing really gets back to the people who populated these places and experienced so much, and for Ghosts of Segregation, the suffering and courage and struggle that people endured. Those are the aspects that compel me to photograph these places.”
Ken Harvey is Communications Director for Sno-Isle Libraries. Ken brings broad professional experience from his service with Community Transit, Sound Transit, Reno, Nev., and several positions in radio and TV.
Jim Hills is the library district’s Assistant Communications Director, Communications & Marketing. Jim is a storyteller who claims to still have some ink in his veins from familial connections with, and previous-career infusions from, the newspaper biz.
Kurt Batdorf is a Communications Specialist for Sno-Isle Libraries. Kurt brings years of journalism experience and perspective to his work, along with an array of interesting life opportunities including barging a house from Seattle to Mount Vernon and an inveterate love for Mazda Miata cars (Miata = Miata Is Always the Answer).
The Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation proudly supports the innovative work of Sno-Isle Libraries through private donations.