Frampton was born March 11, 1936 in Wooster, Ohio. An only child, he was raised primarily by his maternal grandparents.
At the age of 15 he entered Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he was accepted on full scholarship. At Andover, Frampton’s classmates and friends included the painter Frank Stella and sculptor Carl Andre. Widely read already as a youth, he had a reputation at Andover as a “young genius” but was also unpredictable: he failed to graduate from Andover, and thus forfeited a National Scholarship to Harvard University, when he failed his history course on a bet that he could pass the final exam without ever reading the textbook. Entering Western Reserve University in 1954, Frampton took a wide variety of classes (Latin, Greek, German, French, Russian, Sanskrit, Chinese, mathematics) but had no declared major. He recounts that when he was called in front of the dean after three and a half years of study and 135 hours of credits and asked, once again, if he intended to take a degree, he was told that if so, he needed to take speech, western civilization, and music appreciation. He replied that “I already know how to talk, I already know who Napoleon was and I already like music” and noted that “For that reason I hold no bachelor's degree. I was very sick of school." During this time he had a short-lived radio show at Oberlin College.
In 1956 Frampton began correspondence with Ezra Pound after becoming interested in the literary generation of the 1880s. In the fall of 1957, he moved to Washington D.C. where he visited Ezra Pound almost daily at St. Elizabeth’s hospital where Pound was finishing part of his Cantos. There, Frampton writes that he was “privy to a most meaningful exposition of the poetic process by an authentic member of the ‘generation of the ‘80’s.’At the same time, I came to understand that I was not a poet.”
Early the next year, Frampton moved to New York. He renewed his friendships with Andre and Stella, sharing an apartment first with the two of them and then with Andre only. He began photographing artist friends; early projects included documentation of Andre’s work,The Secret World of Frank Stella 1958–1962, and portraits of artists such as Larry Poons and James Rosenquist.
As Frampton's photography moved toward exploring ideas of series and sets, it was natural that he began to make films. He based a lot of his early films on concepts, which he applied clearly and cleverly. All of his very early works were either discarded or lost. His earliest surviving work was Information (1966). His early works were reasonably simple in construction. A few of them including Maxwell's Demon, Surface Tension, and Prince Rupert's Drops were based on concepts from science, a subject he was well read on. As he got on, his films gradually increased in complexity.
His most significant work is arguably Zorns Lemma (1970), a film which drastically altered perceptions towards experimental film at the time. He was seen as a structural filmmaker, a style that focused on the nature of film itself. In an interview with Robert Gardner he stated a discomfort with that term because it was too broad and didn't accurately reflect the nature of his work.
Zorns Lemma remains the most widely known of this films. It is formed in three different sections. The first is a reading (by Joyce Wieland) of the Bay State Primer, a puritan work for children to learn the alphabet. The sentences used had foreboding themes such as "In Adams fall, we sinned all." The second section is based on a text based work by Carl Andre, which started out with an alphabetical list of words for each letter in the alphabet. Each subsequent list is replaced with a letter until it is just letters. In Zorns Lemma, the concept is reversed. It starts off with a twenty four letter alphabet (I/J and U/V are considered one letter), each letter shown for one second of screentime and then looping. The second cycle replaces each letter with a word that starts with each letter. Gradually the word stills are replaced by an active film shot, such as washing hands or peeling a tangerine until there are only moving images. The third section contains a seemingly single shot of a couple walking across a snowy meadow. The sound is of six women reading one word at a time from Theory of Light.
One interpretation of Zorns Lemma was that it was a comment on life's stages, the morality of the Bay State Primer being childhood, the sets of numbers representing maturing and interaction with the world, and the third part representing old age and death.
After Zorns Lemma, he made the Hapax Legomena films, a series of seven films of which (nostalgia) is the most well known. Several of these films explored the relation between sound and cinema, an area often disregarded in American avant-garde film, by demonstrating a disjointed relationship between the two. Poetic Justice explores a "cinema of the mind", wherein the film takes place in the viewers' imagination(s) as they read title cards. An extremely rare artist book edition of Poetic Justice was printed by the Visual Studies Workshop.
His final major film project was a monumental project called Magellan, named after the explorer who first circumnavigated the world. Magellan was intended to be shown as a calendrical cycle, one film for each day of the year. One film from the cycle, Magellan: Drafts and Fragments, is exemplary of Frampton's ambition to create a personal "meta-history" of film; in Drafts and fragments, he remade the cinema of the Lumieres in 51 1-minute films.
The last few years of his life, Frampton taught at SUNY Buffalo, writing, working on Magellan and ongoing photographic projects with fellow artist and wife Marion Faller, and investigating the relationship between computers and art. He did some initial work with video and sound reproducing with an Altair 8800 computer.
Film study, restoration and print availability through Filmmakers Co-op NY, Anthology Film Archives and NY MoMA. Much of Frampton's work was released by the Criterion Collection on April 26, 2012 as special edition Blu-ray Disc and DVD.
On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters: The Writings of Hollis Frampton (Writing Art) by Hollis Frampton and Bruce Jenkins
Hardcover: 360 pages
Publisher: The MIT Press; First Edition edition (February 13, 2009)
Amazon: On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters: The Writings of Hollis Frampton
As Hollis Frampton's photographs and celebrated experimental films were testing the boundaries of "the camera arts" in the 1960s and 1970s, his provocative and highly literate writings were attempting to establish an intellectually resonant form of discourse for these critically underexplored fields. It was a time when artists working in diverse disciplines were beginning to pick up cameras and produce films and videotapes, well before these practices were understood or embraced by institutions of contemporary art. This collection of Frampton's writings presents his critical essays (many written for Artforum and October) along with additional material, including lectures, correspondence, interviews, and production notes and scripts. It replaces--and supersedes--the long-unavailable Circles of Confusion, published in 1983. Frampton ranged widely over the visual arts in his writing, and the texts in this collection display his unique approaches to photography, film, and video, as well as the plastic and literary arts. They include critically acclaimed essays on Edward Weston and Eadweard Muybridge as well as appraisals of contemporary photographers; the influential essay, "For a Metahistory of Film," along with scripts, textual material, and scores for his films; writings on video that constitute a prehistory of the digital arts; a dialogue with Carl Andre (his friend and former Phillips Andover classmate) from the early 1960s; and two inventive, almost unclassifiable pieces that are reminiscent of Borges, Joyce, and Beckett.
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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