“It’s really a love letter to America and its women,” said Claiborne, “It inspires young girls to dream big and go after their dreams of themselves.”
If it’s true that one writes about what they know best, then it can be said in the case of Claiborne Swanson Frank (being a graceful American beauty herself), it’s only natural that she would capture the same quality in photographing over one hundred women with the same (seemingly) absolute effortlessness. Claiborne has lived in New York City for five years. Her love for photography began as a child, watching her mother take pictures as a hobby. Developing a love for images and style at a young age, she attended art school in San Francisco for fashion. It was during her first year there, that she watched a video on Richard Avedon – which had a lifelong impact on her career. “For me, it’s always been about the portrait,” Claiborne said to me.
Just interviewing her sister, Alexis Swanson Traina this past February, I had the pleasure of meeting with Claiborne and her best friend, Genevieve Bahrenburg, who wrote and co-produced the book, before a dinner hosted at the Mansion at Turtle Creek by Neiman Marcus, Estée Lauder, and Vogue in celebration of her first photography book, American Beauty. “It was a true pleasure to collaborate with my best friend on a book,” she told me, “She has astounding raw talent and a very sophisticated sense of color and composition. I couldn’t be prouder of her growth over the past two years. She has a very bright future ahead of her and I believe in her and her immense talent deeply.”
Claiborne Swanson Frank and Genevieve Bahrenburg at the American Beauty book party at Neiman Marcus NorthPark in Dallas!
So, how did her new book come to be? During her 20s, Claiborne began exploring film and attended art school. At 23, she took her first photography course and invited her close friends to participate in her final project using the same formula she later exercised for American Beauty. When the project came to a close, she was left feeling extremely inspired and almost switched her major. Then, at age 26, she began working at Vogue magazine. There, she assisted editor in chief, Anna Wintour for almost 2 years – leaving at 2009 to finally pursue her lifelong dream of being a photographer. “I think in your 20s, you can be really scared of failure,” she said, “I was finally at a place in my life where I wasn’t scared to fail.” She then enrolled in a digital photography workshop. After completing the workshop, she began working on a photography portfolio – one that would would create and ignite her photography career.
“The composition and balance of my portraits is certainly traditional, but they are also modern, raw, a bit bohemian.”- Claiborne
“It was a true pleasure to collaborate with my best friend on a book. She has astounding raw talent and a very sophisticated sense of color and composition. I couldn’t be prouder of her growth over the past two years. She has a very bright future ahead of her and I believe in her and her immense talent deeply.” – Genevieve Bahrenburg
She began to photograph women for her portfolio. The final project was a compilation of 29 women. She titled the series, “Indigo Light,” and it was exhibited during Fashion’s Night Out in 2010 in NYC. “Indigo Light” also traveled to Boston and San Francisco and Claiborne then began shooting for Vogue.com. She was placed in touch with Martine Assouline and had her first meeting with the Assouline Publishing Company in October of 2010. Receiving the book deal in February of last year, Claiborne completed 80 new portraits from February-September 2011. And, from her original project, “Indigo Light,” 25 of the 29 portraits were also included in American Beauty. The end result: American Beauty is comprised of the portraits of 110 different American women from around the country- all who have inspired Claiborne in some way. The first portrait of the book was Asia Baker and the last woman photographed was Solange Knowles.
Every aspect of the included photographs is finely curated. Claiborne worked to capture the essence of her subject through composition, location, and of course, clothing. She worked with every individual before their shoot and styled them from their own wardrobe. Claiborne notes that location was a very important part of this project. She only shot the portraits outside using natural light- celebrating the American landscape. Claiborne is greatly inspired by the portraits of John Singer Sargent and the ways in which he told the stories of his subjects. “It’s envisioning John Singer Sargent – if one portrait tells your story, what would it be and what would it look like,” asked Claiborne, “What is the modern portrait?”
Private dinner with Claiborne Swanson Frank at the Mansion at Turtle Creek in Dallas celebrating American Beauty – hosted by Neiman Marcus, Estée Lauder, and Vogue
And, in addition to John Singer Sargent and Richard Avedon, Claiborne notes William Eggleston, Tim Walker, Lee Miller, and Sally Mann as inspirations as well. Her own photography is truly a captivating modern take on classic portraiture. It’s refined, regal, timeless, and approachable at the same time. And, I must add, the lighting in each and every image included within American Beauty is beautiful – breathtaking. To see individuals in their natural element and wearing garments in which they feel themselves, authentically speaks to the viewer. “The composition and balance of my portraits is certainly traditional, but they are also modern, raw, a bit bohemian,” she said.
The book is an artful, energetic, and creative monument to the very individuals that can energize, motivate, and reassure all those uncertain of finding their path, reaching their goals, and possibly- uncovering them. “It’s really a love letter to America and its women,” said Claiborne, “It inspires young girls to dream big and go after their dreams of themselves.” If seeing is believing, with Claiborne’s American Beauty – all is certainly possible.