Len Frank, Automotive Photographer
Published on Sat, May 15, 2004
By: Len Frank
Matt Stone on the writer as shooter. Above: Len loved Alfa Romeos. He sold them, wrote about them, raced them, worked on them, and of course photographed them (Alfa Abarth photo by Len Frank)
The late Len Frank was not an automotive photographer, at least not in the classical sense. His camera equipment was old and outdated, and I never once saw him use something so exotic as a tripod. Len used to ask me highly technical questions about the art of shooting cars, such as “what type of film should I use?” or “I shot this roll of ASA 100 film with my camera meter set at ASA 400. Do think it will be OK?”.
One of Len’s fascinations was cars that were not imported to the U.S. market. Above is a Ford Escort convertible. Below is a Fiat Barchetta and a Westfield Roadster in the rain, no less.
But goodness knows, he had an eye: an eye for style and color, an eye for interesting automobiles, even an eye for cars with a sense of humor. As with many automotive journalists, Len enjoyed the opportunity to travel extensively, and he always made time to seek out interesting places, subjects—and cars. Fortunately, he usually had a camera with him, and snapped away. This was apparently for his own enjoyment, and/or for documentary purposes, as very few of his photos ever appeared in print as elements of the articles he wrote.
I was fortunate enough to photograph several cars for articles that Len wrote. He felt—rightfully so—that people added a lot to the flavor of the shoot. It was not uncommon at all for him to stop anyone passing by, and ask them to be in our photographs; he obviously did the same when he himself was behind the camera. – Matt Stone (photos above and below by Len Frank)
Not long after Len passed away, his son Stefan entrusted me with Len’s research files, manuscripts, negatives, and slides. I’ve found the stewardship of these materials to be rewarding, yet somehow daunting: I’m honored to have them in my care, yet aware that nearly 20 years of a man’s life’s work is in my trust. Talk about an awesome responsibility.
Among Len Frank’s passions—and there were many—was to trundle around wrecking yards, looking for interesting cars that had been cast aside. He would often buy a small part or two off of them, just as a remembrance. Len once told me that certain cars would actually provide him with story inspirations, as he would wonder, then expand upon the reasons that a particular car ended up in a particular yard. Fortunately, he made many photographs there too, and clearly saw beauty where others just saw junk. – Matt Stone Above: Volkswagen Beetle grazing in the grass (Len Frank)
The filing system Len devised for his ’scripts and stories was reasonably well organized; the same could not be said for his slides and negatives. “The Archive” amounted to several somewhat dusty file boxes, each containing hundreds of little packages of slides – some as if fresh from the lab. Amazingly, several dozen packages had never even been opened, and there were even a few rolls of unprocessed film. I felt like an archeologist, unearthing treasure that had not been touched or seen by man in centuries. Sometimes, just for the pure unmitigated heck of it, I’ll close my eyes, dig my hand into one of the containers, fish around a bit, and pull out a box of slides. Like a grab bag at a kid’s birthday party, you never knew what might be inside, but the anticipation is half the fun.
Any good shooter recognizes that parts of an automobile can make as interesting a photo as the entire vehicle; perhaps even more so. This fact was obviously not lost on Len – Matt Stone (Len Frank)
I’ve found that most of Len’s images fall into one of three categories: largely routine, barely discernible—or utterly amazing. I’ll admit to becoming a bit misty-eyed more than once. Many knew Len only through his words, in this section, you’ll get a glimpse of him from another angle: through his eyes, with the aid of a camera. No matter the medium, it all still boils down to Len Frank and cars—a natural pairing if there ever was one.
Another of Len’s all time fav labels was Volvo, no doubt due to the fact that he participated in an SCCA Showroom Stock Volvo racing effort in 1983. He also sold and serviced Volvos during his tenure in the automobile dealership business in the 1960s. – Matt Stone (Len Frank photo)
The late Len Frank was the legendary co-host of “The Car Show”—the first and longest-running automotive broadcast program on the airwaves. Len was also a highly regarded journalist, having served in editorial roles with Motor Trend, Sports Car Graphic, Popular Mechanics, and a number of other publications. LA Car is proud to once again host “Look Down the Road – The Writings of Len Frank” within its pages. Special thanks to another long-time automotive journalist, Matt Stone, who has been serving as the curator of Len Frank’s archives since his passing in 1996. Now, you’ll be able to view them all in one location under the simple search term “Len Frank”, or just click this link: Look Down The Road. – Roy Nakano