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Robert J. Franzese Bio

I grew up in New York City. I live in Telluride, Colorado one of the most beautiful places in the world.

I received my first camera, a Kodak Brownie 127, from my parents one Christmas and honestly, from then on, I have had a love affair with photography. I think I was eight. Mainly because of the cost of film and processing I primarily shot black and white pictures. For years I carried that camera everywhere I went. Every time there was a family event (mostly funerals, family reunions and weddings) I was always taking pictures. It was always curious how people would comment about my pictures. I have never really understood it but I’ve always been able to create images which got peoples attention. I knew then I wanted to be a photographer.

I was fortunate to go boarding school at the Cathedral Choir School of Saint John the Divine in NYC for 40 choristers who could sing. We were the US version of the Vienna Boys’ Choir. We travelled all over the world singing. The Choir was the cover story on the Saturday Evening Post. I was more interested in the process of creating the picture than being on the cover. There were many historic events at which we sang. The most memorable events for me personally were meeting John F. Kennedy, singing for President Kennedy’s funeral and singing for the funeral for Eleanor Roosevelt. As a chorister I was exposed to the arts, music, politics and musical theater, all the time carrying my trusty Brownie. I was the geeky kid with glasses, who was always taking pictures at all of these events. Many of these images, if I knew where they were, would now be historic.

When I went to public high school I found out I was more athletic than I knew. I lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track (an athlete and geek at the same time). I was fortunate enough to be named the scholar athlete of the year by the Lion’s Clubs of NYC, all the time carrying my trusty Brownie. I took pictures of everything. My older cousin was the production manager of Black Star which was, at that time, the largest photo agency in the world. All of the most famous photographers, including all the Life Magazine photographers, were represented by Black Star. I would hang out at Black Star and would quietly watch and learn from the best. I would work in the lab when they needed help and got to observe the greats as they oversaw the printing of their images. Even though these photographers were older some of them became lifelong friends, including Eliot Porter, Gordon Parks and Ansell Adams. They would always give me encouragement when I had the gumption to show them my pictures taken with my Brownie. Eliot Porter taught me to stick to my vision. Gordon Parks taught me to see all the possibilities. He was involved in fashion, music and movies. Ansell Adams gave me validation. He would stress the art of print making and that it was just as important as taking the picture. All of the great Life Magazine photographers of that time shot Leica cameras. When I graduated from high school my dad asked me what I wanted for graduation. He thought it was funny when I told him I wanted a Leica. My father bought me a Leica M3 and three lenses. I used this camera for many years. Eventually I was sponsored by Leica.

I wanted to be a photographer but my parents did not want me to be a photographer. So, I went to college at Washington State University, majored in math and minored in chemistry & zoology. When administrators at WSU found out about my background I was asked to teach photography classes while going to school. Truthfully all I wanted to do is be a photographer. But having a degree in the math and sciences has always been a benefit. After graduation I started working as a professional photographer shooting fashion. My mother was a fashion model for a while and I was fascinated by the fashion industry. Much of my career has focused on architectural and interior work, shooting for log home magazines, Better Homes and Gardens, Architectural Digest and creating photographic murals for the National Park Service and many corporations all over the world. One of my personal favorite subjects was photographing golf courses. Of course I would have to play these famous courses before I could properly photograph them. I have a preference for black & white photography and only print color when I think color makes the photograph better. Often color detracts from the composition.

My wife, Valerie and I started Black Bear Trading Company in Telluride about 15 years ago. It was primarily my idea, and she agreed to it as long as I promised I would start shooting photographs again and show my work in the store. But it took a long time to start producing photographs that I wanted to show. Part of the problem was that digital technology had not advanced far enough to produce the quality I demanded plus the growing difficulties involved with shooting and printing large format conventional film. When Phase One started producing digital cameras which could produce images that could compete with large format conventional photography I now had a process which would produce the quality I demanded. These exceptionally clear digital images, coupled with Epson’s professional large format printers, archival quality paper and the availability of exceptional inks; I can now produce a print of the quality that meets my stringent demands and the discerning artistic eyes of my customers.

There are people and companies who I need to thank for helping me produce my prints. First, my wife Valerie had faith in me and always encouraged me to follow my dreams. Phase One which is a very small company which makes the best professional digital backs and Capture One Software which is the best raw photo file processor and now is a sponsor of my work. Nik software which makes the best B&W files conversion. Epson Printers which makes the best large format printers. Jon Cone’s Piezography who makes the best B&W inks for Epson printers. And lastly, Canson for making the finest art quality photographic paper, Canson Baryta Photographique. I am currently working on a project which is photographing iconic images in the US, mostly National Parks, but using modern equipment and techniques.
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