Thursday, February 05, 2009

Alison Frantz Studies

In the Spring of 2006, I spent three months at Princeton looking through Alison Frantz's Papers. I focused especially on her correspondence because it revealed the intersection between the realms of aesthetics and of scholarly production. This evidence was crucial in my attempts to reconstruct the cultural environment of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) during the critical juncture in the 1920s when Byzantine archaeology was invented as a discipline. Alison Frantz is a fascinating figure. She was more than the ASCSA's resident expert on all things Early Christian and Byzantine. Between 1933 and 1968, she was also the ASCSA's official photographer, especially at the Agora. Very little has been published on Alison Frantz's life. Sadly, the best biographical sketch is her obituary written by her good friend and neighbor James McCredie, "Alison Frantz: 27 September 1903-1 February 1995: Biographical Memoirs," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 144 (2000), pp. 214-217. Tragically, Frantz was hit by a truck outside her grocery store at Princeton and did not survive. In the last couple of years, I have been looking at Frantz's excavation notebooks and the Administrative Records of the ASCSA. I have been building a richer and richer portrait of the personage. I will not recount all the amazing things that make up the tremendous figure of Alison Frantz.

Last week, I had the pleasure of a telephone conversation with Alexandra Moschovi, a scholar who has spent a couple of months at Princeton also studying the Frantz Papers. Alexandra Moschovi gave a lecture last year, "Tales of Urbanity in Contemporary Greek Photography" (Hellenic Studies, May 6, 2008), and this year, she holds a Seeger Research Fellowship; her topic is "Redefining Greekness in Photographic Representations of Greece: c. 1920s-1970s." I find Moschovi's preliminary conclusions wonderful and refreshing. Unlike people like me, Moschovi actually specializes in photography and teaches in the Department of Photography, Video, and Digital Imaging at the University of Sunderland. I was also thrilled that Moschovi independently arrived at some similar conclusions that I had drawn. Frantz's photographic production is best known for the spectacular prints that she made for archaeological publications. I believe that after her return to the U.S., Frantz self-fashioned herself as a fine art photographer rather than a field photographer. This makes sense, considering that she stopped taking trench photos in 1968. The two major articles on Frantz's photography reflect this loftier body of work: Amy Papalexandrou and Marie Mauzy, "The Photographs of Alison Frantz: Revealing Antiquity through the Lens," History of Photography 27.2 (2003) pp. 130-143, and Andrew Szegedy-Mazak, "Portrait of a Purist,"
Archaeology 48.1 (January/February 1995), pp. 58-64. When Papalexandrou was a graduate student at Princeton, she organized Frantz's Papers, so we owe her a great thanks for her work on the invaluable Finding Aid. I feel lucky to have also become friends with Andy Szegedy-Mazak, who is my wife's colleague at Wesleyan University. Although a classical philologist, Andy also works on the early photography of ancient monuments. He has co-edited Antiquity and Photography: Early Views of Ancient Mediterranean Sites (Getty, 2005), and has contributed to Robert McCabe's Greece: Images of an Enchanted Land, 1954-1965 (2006) . His article on Frantz grew out of an exhibition at Princeton.

Interestingly, Frantz's photo archive is split between Athens and Princeton, with Athens having all the fine photos of classical art and architecture. The archive at Princeton is more inclusive. In addition to works of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine subjects, it also contains personal photos, snap shots, travel photos and other such ephemera. Consequently, it offers a wider view of the artist's personality. Moscovi, it seems from our conversation, has been able to trace slight shifts in Frantz's gaze. Moreover, she has been able to reconstruct Frantz's relationship to Greek photographic circles, personalities and organizations. I am simply thrilled that Frantz's archive will receive the attention it deserves from a photographic specialist.

My relationship to Frantz goes back to 1998. A graduate fellowship in her memory is what made it possible for me to spend a year at the ASCSA and the Gennadeion, without which I would have never pursued my research on medieval Greece. And, as a Byzantinist, I have known Frantz's art-historical scholarship quite well (Holy Apostles Church, pottery, manuscript illumination, etc.) When I started studying Frantz as a person, I felt that my interest was idiosyncratic. In the last two years, I have become gleefully aware that I'm not alone; a diverse group of scholars now shares my enthusiasm. I know that Susan Heuck Allen has been studying Frantz's archive (longer than I have), but I'm not aware of her conclusions. Back in 2007, Bob Pounder had a wonderful idea of co-chairing a session (with Allen) on the secret lives of archaeologists at the AIA Meetings in Chicago. The session was not organized. Despoina Lalaki at the New School of Social Research is giving Frantz a fresh look from the point of view of Cold War politics. Now that Alexandra Moschovi has become a Frantz convert, we have grown large enough to organize a conference, or to pull together a memorial volume on her life. In my ideal world, this is how it would look.

Andrew Szegedy-Mazak, on photographing antiquities
Amy Papalexandrou, on Frantz's fine art photos (esp. Byzantine sculpture, spolia, etc.)
Alexandra Moschovi, on Frantz's changing photographic gaze through contacts in Greece
Robert Pounder or James MacCredie, on the life of Alison Frantz, as they knew her in person
Susan Heuck Allen, on Frantz as an excavating woman
Dimitri Gondicas, on acquiring Frantz's archive and her donations to Hellenic Studies
Kostis Kourelis, on Frantz's domestic space and her house excavations
Despoina Lalaki, on Frantz and the Cold War

I am sure I have missed some people. It was therapeutic for me to make the list if only because it shows a sizeable body of work. Two years ago, I couldn't have done it.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States