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When it comes to drop-dead-gorg portraits, no one can top our friend Claiborne Swanson Frank. With an eye for pitch-perfect locations and a knack for making her subjects look their best, she’s simply one of the most talented young photographers around. The chic shutterbug is currently hard at work on her first book (American Beauty, to be published by Assouline next spring), and took a moment to chat with us about her latest venture.
What’s the basis of your book?
It’s a hundred portraits of American women, and it’s celebrating the new creative guard in America. It’s a mix of women, mostly in fashion, art, music, film, and interior design. I have Marissa Mayer of Google in the book, Erin Burnett, and Alina Cho [and Clos-ette’s own Melanie Fascitelli]. My book is celebrating these women through my portraits.
What drew you to portraiture?
I always was drawn to portraits, since I was a little girl, and I think more than anything it was out of nostalgia. My inspiration is the portraits that our grandmothers had painted of them. In many ways, the portrait was a rite of passage for women for centuries. Our past few generations have really lost that. I think, when this is all over, what’s left? It’s portraits, photography, and I think most women –at least all the women I’ve shot –are hoping to have that, having something that their granddaughter could find one day and say, ‘that’s my grandmother. That’s who she was.' I think portraits are the only way to understand a person, in the present time and in the past.
Your portraits are so stunning, and so fresh. How do you do it?
I think in our time today, the portrait has really died in a lot of ways, unless you’re shot for a magazine, or go to a studio. The studio is super-outdated, kind of ‘90s, and when you’re shot for a magazine, it’s not really you either – it’s a projection onto you. I started in my early 20s shooting portraits, and my objection quickly became how to capture someone in an authentic way, but in their most beautiful moment. I study the subject before I shoot them, and try to place them in an environment and in clothing and in a moment that is sort of like their highest space. Wardrobe and location meetings are part of the process.
As an artist and visual person, what draws you to Clos-ette?
Order is so visually pleasing, and I think Melanie creates that order in a way that's very visually pleasing to the eye, but also in a really functional way. Whether it’s her hangers or a closet, she makes it so functional yet so chic .It’s sort of an amazing marriage of functionality, yet holding some refined sense of structure and shape and line.