“...fail as much as you can, that means you are learning and trying new things.”
Photographer, Instigator and Father
Frank Roesner, 50 years old.
I pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly and Frank lights a cigarette, we are sitting outside on a deck overlooking a redwood forest in the Muir woods, the sun has just set, and the trees are no more than silhouettes. Frank has just flown in from Berlin and the Champagne is a gift from me for his time, an apology for keeping him from sleep. I pour our glasses and we enjoy a little small talk before beginning; he has a quick dry wit which I adore in a person but also makes me a little nervous for the interview, as this is my second time meeting Frank. On the first occasion he was doing what he does best, conducting a photoshoot, and I was doing something I had never done before, modeling the new line for Les Lunes. Frank is a tall man of barely fifty; the first time we met his grey hair was grown out in a fashionable artist cut, but tonight he has it buzzed into a high fade. So, with the scent of tobacco in the air and champagne on my lips, we begin.
“I was an entrepreneur ….”, arguably he still is, he just chose to move his sights to art, to his need to “work closely to something I create”, rather than continuing with being a corporate officer. Frank has been the founding CEO of a string of companies that included consulting firms, recording studios, advertising, even internet design strategy (back before it was a thing). “I failed and I had success in founding companies. At one point in my life I was rich and then I was not.” He chuckles at this. Frank was turning 40 and about to sell the last company he had founded and, instead of building a new venture, he decided to change his life. “I wanted to do something different. I always liked to work creatively, I had been writing and taking photos all my life.”
For some the transition from High Tech CEO to freelance photographer may have been a cultural shock fraught with second guesses, but Frank plowed dauntlessly ahead, “I like to be challenged.” He says this more than once in our interview. He is everything you expect from an artist: guarded and intelligent with a certain amount of antagonism lurking just beneath the surface. He likes to be provoked in a constructive sense, and it is this opposition that feeds his growth. Frank surrounds himself with people that can navigate the depths of their psyche, and to encourage this he often spurs discussions that lead to a defense of core beliefs. This way, he can see the ethical framework that shapes them, at once understanding them personally and enabling his own growth.
I can always tell when I have struck the chord of someone's passion, there is a spark in the eyes and they get animated. As soon as I ask about his current projects, Frank comes alive. He tells me about Scality and the yearly company biography, a coffee table book depicting the essence of corporate and private life of all individuals important to the company over the last year; an innovative idea that is well received. It is through Scality that Frank came to be the photographer for Les Lunes and it is through Frank that Les Lunes is able to capture the beauty of women for their fashion line. Frank’s projects are diverse and thought provoking, each focused on bringing the heart of difficult cultural subjects to light by telling their stories through pictures.
Projects include an exhibition of 18 life-sized portraits showing the extraordinary evidence for human diversity reflecting individual experiences within the education system. Initiated by the Association for the German Education Industry, the exhibition was shown in Hannover, Basel and Cologne. Another project called ‘Farbwerte’ or ‘Color Values’ examines questions surrounding German identity 20 years after the dismantling of the wall. Respective forms of public display have been exhibited in Germany, China, Bangladesh, Oman, Indonesia, Greece and Iran among other countries. In addition Frank’s images are collected by private collectors and institutions. The future holds yet more promise. He is in the infant stage of a new project that will showcase the Topography of Religion, an in depth look at the patterns of belief systems around the world.
After discussing his work I wanted to hear more about the man. When I ask him to describe his perfect day he groans a bit. His wife Mona is a systemic coach and at times dinner conversation turns into Frank being quizzed to describe his perfect day. “I hate this.” He tells me, but he grudgingly obliges anyway. “My perfect day starts by spending time alone in the sun, maybe reading, maybe listening to music or taking pictures. Later in the day I meet up with friends or family, with the people that motivate and incite me. I like to debate topics… sometimes to excess.” It is important to Frank to have these dialogues where he is challenged to defend and rationalize what he believes is right, but even more I think he needs to see people fighting for their own beliefs. He instigates these discussions, wanting to see what passion he can evoke, to see if he can draw you to anger. There is this constant testing of mettle that he can’t help but indulge himself in. He wants to see if you will take the bait and sometimes perhaps he pushes too far, certainly past agreed social propriety. This artist perpetually needs to tear away the mask of polite society to unveil the messy truth of life, that we all may find strength in its raw and unrestrained nature. “I surround myself with people that challenge me, even my daughter Annie does, which is my own gene pool turning against me, which is good… I think.”
What piece of wisdom would he pass on to Annie? “I want her to find the thing that makes her forget time; to find her talents and nurture them.” His hopes for Annie as she grows into a woman are many, and shared by fathers for their daughters in much of the world. Life is short and you need to be vigilant in making the most of the time that you have. “Maintain your curiosity, question everything and try to be honest with yourself and others.” Frank takes these wisdoms a step further and wishes that his daughter will be open to all faults and avoid dogmas. He encourages Annie to “...fail as much as you can, that means you are learning and trying new things.” Which is a very strong statement that speaks to his character, knowing that there can’t be any success or joy without the heartbreak of failure.
Frank is a voracious reader; his appetite spans many if not all genres. “I consume knowledge. I think you can find everything you need for growing yourself in literature.” But his main inspiration comes from family. His mother, who supported his many ideas and endeavors, his stepfather that taught him integrity and old school ethics, his wife Mona who keeps him honest and his daughter Annie. “She reminds me of myself at that age... but she is already so much better than I.”
An example of Frank's current work: