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See It Now: For Frank Ockenfels 3, a Long-Delayed and Marvelous Book

By David Schonauer   Tuesday December 3, 2019


After 30 years, Frank Ockelfels 3 is publishing a book.

It’s the photographer’s first, though its title is Frank Ockenfels 3: Volume 3  (teNeus). But the title isn’t the real mystery. (It refers to his three decades as a photographer.) The mystery is why it took Ockenfels so long to bring out a book.

By now, he might have produced at least a few photo books. Ockenfels is acclaimed for his portraits of musicians, actors and artists — images that have appeared in magazines including Rolling Stone, Spin, Forbes, GQ, and Esquire and on more than 200 album covers. “I probably photographed David Bowie more than anyone else,” he notes. Among his other subjects: directors Spike Lee, David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Altman, actors Milla Jovovich, Elijah Wood, Natalie Portman, and Macaulay Culkin, writer Norman Mailer, and composer Philip Glass.

With both published and until now unseen work, the new book highlights the distinctive nature of his portraiture, which often incorporates non-photographic elements, including ink, collage, text, and paint. The result are images that, noted PDN recently, communicate “a sense of disquiet and chaos” while still managing to be aesthetically pleasing.

“I didn’t want to do a book just to do a book,” Ockenfels says. “This is the book I wanted to do." It is, he says, a window into his visual thinking — what he calls “the insanity of my mind.”

In fact, he says, the book is an outgrowth of private journals he’s been keeping for three decades, as well as the “living, breathing wall” inside his Los Angeles office, where, he says, he “surrounds himself all kinds of stuff.”

“Going through the book, the ways the pages flow, is very much what it’s like being inside my head,” he says. “It’s never one thing. It’s a million different things going on, but for some reason they all connect back to each other.

The new book, Ockefels says, might not have happened at all, had he not gotten a call from a longtime friend, the noted Los Angeles photography dealer David Fahey.

“He gave me a little speech one morning,” Ockenfels says. “He said, ‘What are you doing with all your work? You haven’t done a book. You’ve only had a few random exhibitions. Where do you want to go with all of this? You’ve got a body of work that’s worth something, and it would be great to put it together so that people will know you beyond the idea of you as an editorial photographer.’”

Ockenfels ended up putting together his journals, a collection of his portraits  — all shot with the same 4x5-inch camera over the years — collages he’d made, and his images of Bowie. “I gave them to David, and he called me up one day and said, ‘I think I’ve got something,’” Ockenfels says. “I went to see him, and he’d laid out about 10 pages, mixing everything together. And I thought, ‘That is exactly how my brain works.’”


Ockenfels’s work goes on view at the Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles from Dec. 5 through January 11, 2020. There’s also a book signing at the gallery on Saturday, December 7, from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. “The exhibition is going to have the same feeling as the book,” says the photographer. “The room will be overwhelming, from the sense of how we’re printing the material.”

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