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A cold morning on the streets of New York City. The tightly-cropped snapshot shows everyday traffic chaos, mixed with hurrying pedestrians. The frame for the picture is made up of dark brick buildings, drawing the eye to a particular display: the sun, sitting low in the sky, infuses the cloud of steam rising from the underground heating pipe with a golden glow.

Frank Horvat considered this spectacle a welcome complement to the New York impressions he collected in the eighties, when he wandered through the streets of the city without any specific assignment. “What is unique about this city, and so difficult to capture, is the simultaneity of visual shocks,” Horvat explains. “Tightly framed, a skyscraper, or the face of a passer-by, doesn’t suggest New York. Photographed from a wider angle, mixed up with the street signs, cars and posters, they become part of the surrounding chaos, absorbed into the muddle of colours and distorted by the photographic blur, so unusual in the sharp light of New York. Black and white might allow for a more precise design, but I would miss the yellow of the taxis, the pinks and oranges of the shop signs, the blue sky reflected in the windows.”

Throughout his stay in New York, his curiosity was repeatedly inspired by the colours and chaotic diversity of the metropolis. In this series, the photographer's eye seems a little more poetic, compared to the rest of his work. During his long career, Horvat worked in a broad range of areas: photojournalism; fashion photography; still lifes; landscapes; portraits; and also digital design. Despite his diversity, the inspiration he got from the streets was of primary importance to him. While preferring to work in black and white, the photographer explains that the rich visual surprises he experienced in New York encouraged him to passionately explore the possibilities of colour photography. Very succinctly, he wrote in his accompanying diary: “And above all, photography today is in colour; end of discussion. Black and white has become contrived.” Consequently, colour became the actual theme of the series: “In my other colour work I have often softened the colours, compared to the original. But the palette of New York is too vibrant; the colour has to speak.” When selecting the pictures for Side Walk – the last book he himself put together –, the photographer always looked for the “strong colour compositions”, sorting out “any pictures that were anecdotal or too documentary”. Not least, due to the strong Ektachrome colours, the book represents a journey into the past of a city that no longer exists in this form.  With the rediscovery of his series, the photographer has bequeathed us with a very personal gift. (Ulrich Rüter)

LFI 04/2021 is presenting a selection from Frank Horvat's photo book, Side Walk. It has been published by Atelier EXB (Editions Xavier Barral) and Hatje Cantz.

Image © Frank Horvat
© Frank Horvat

Frank Horvat

Horvat was born on April 28, 1928, in what was formerly Abbazia, Italy, and is today Opatija, Croatia. Following the completion of his studies in Milan, Horvat began to teach himself photography. After spending a year in London, he moved to Paris in 1955, where he lived until his passing on October 21, 2020. Till the late eighties, fashion and commercial photography remained his main areas of activity. After that, personal and free projects became more important.

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