Frank Martin obituary | Photography

Photographer Frank Martin, who died aged 89, was part of the Guardian team from 1964 to 1997, creating an extensive body of work spanning news, arts, fashion, politics and international events.

During his career on paper, he photographed most of his notable contemporaries. These included, among hundreds of others, a young Judi Dench at home and Mark Rylance in rehearsal; artists Andy Warhol and David Hockney; Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter on the presidential campaign trail in 1976. He captured Fidel Castro and Twiggy; Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Edward Heath; novelists Joseph Heller and Norman Mailer; the Rolling Stones in their first television appearance in 1964; and giant pandas Chia Chia and Ching Ching reunited at London Zoo after a failed mating trip to Washington.

Frank Martin was not only a great photographer but also an accomplished writer, covering fashion for the Guardian.

Frank was in Aberfan for the 1966 disaster; in Belfast during the Troubles, when he was “roughed up” by rioters; and he traveled to India to photograph Rajiv Gandhi’s funeral in 1991, but ended up being sent to cover the floods in Bangladesh, where he took an extremely moving image of a young child holding his dying baby brother. In 1967 he had witnessed the Torrey Canyon oil disaster off the southwest coast of Britain and had written about the experience.

The variety of his subjects was astounding. He worked with only two cameras (Pentaxes, then later Nikons), a few lenses and a flash. The flash was usually left in its elegant leather camera case – “available light” was the preferred lighting for the atmospheric portraits it made.

One Sunday in June 1989, Frank was in the office of the Guardian as a duty photographer. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, had died the previous night. It was decided that Frank should try to attend the funeral in Tehran.

Ayatollah Khomeini's funeral in 1989, for which Martin used up his credit card and raided the Guardian editor's safe to pay for the last-minute flight to Tehran.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s funeral in 1989, for which Martin used up his credit card and raided the Guardian editor’s safe to pay for the last-minute flight to Tehran. Photography: Frank Martin/The Guardian

By maxing out his credit card and going through the editor’s safe, a plane ticket was purchased and he was on his way. He didn’t need to go home; he still carried his passport. To actually go to the funeral, with millions of mourners, Frank had to draw on all of his experience, resilience and bravery. He found himself at the grave almost carried by the crowd, but he took some career-defining photos and was on a plane to London that night.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Frank was one of many international photographers who followed the semi-annual ready-to-wear cycle from Milan to Paris, New York to London. Brenda Polan, the Guardian’s fashion editor at the time (and later women’s editor), said: “Frank’s favorite subject as a photographer was wildlife and he was very good at it, not only because of his expert eye for composition, but because he had the patience to calmly wait for the animal to perform. It was exactly what catwalk photography demanded – and he was very good at it too.

He was much admired in the fashion industry and designers often asked him to moonlight and take their publicity shots. As a trained press photographer to not only get the shot but also get it into the dark room and into the paper before the deadline, he was fast. “In a profession where a model shot could take a tedious day, Frank got the perfect shot in minutes,” Polan said.

He has contributed more than just images to The Guardian. He was that rarity among photographers – he could write. For several years, in addition to photographing fashion, Frank also wrote about it. From Milan in 1979, he reported: “The fashionable woman next fall…will probably be a broad-shouldered, spiky-heeled superwoman with perhaps a snap-trim trilby and a pinstripe suit. .. Square, padded shoulders are a must, with peaks and puffs. and wings and lamb sleeves from Walter Albini; but you won’t have to look like Al Capone on his wedding day. Successful designs have balanced wide tops with clean lines from neck to hem, full of simple sleeves and tailoring excellence. All her fashion items were illustrated with her own photos.

A fashion show in Milan in 1979. Martin took the photos and wrote: “The fashionable woman next fall…will probably be a broad-shouldered, spiky-heeled superwoman.
A fashion show in Milan in 1979. Martin took the photos and wrote: “The fashionable woman next fall…will probably be a broad-shouldered, spiky-heeled superwoman. Photography: Frank Martin/The Guardian

Frank was born in West Ham, East London. Her father, Frederick, was a carpenter turned bus driver and her mother, Rose (née Higgs), worked at a garden store. He attended Beal’s Modern School in Ilford before doing his national service with the RAF Photographic Reconnaissance Unit based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, where he also met his future wife, Ann Williams; they married in 1953. Like several other photographers of his generation, he was bitten by the photo bug during his time in the RAF.

After his demobilization he worked as a “darkroom boy” in a Fleet Street news agency, before landing a job at Bernsen’s International News Service (BIPS). His successful apprenticeship at BIPS doing all manner of assignments for national magazines and newspapers led to his clerkship at the Guardian’s London office in 1964.

Early on he also wrote articles for the British Journal of Photography, including a spread on life as a press photographer on London’s coldest street, outside No 10, and an interview with the leading sports photographer of the time, Ed Lacey. In 1977 he was named Men’s Fashion Writer of the Year.

Frank was a photographer respected among his peers and described by Polan as “a tall, quiet presence amid the crowd hysteria” that often prevailed at international fashion shows. “We traveled together for half a decade,” she recalls, “mumbling to each other that this fashion circus wasn’t really a grown-up way to make a living. I dragged her into fashion parties and designer dinners where you never ate before midnight His oft-repeated sweet rebuke, “That’s another beautiful mess you got me into, Polan,” still rings in my ears whenever a situation arises. becomes tricky.

After retiring in 1997, Frank returned to his favorite subject, wildlife, and continued to build an extensive archive. Ann, who was a craft teacher, died in 2012; Frank is survived by his daughter, also Ann.

Frank Martin, photographer, born September 27, 1932; died on April 2, 2022

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