In approaching the work of Hollis Frampton, it is useful to borrow from the parlance of the late 1990s and to speak of the artist and filmmaker as an “early adopter.” A prodigy of sorts who was educated as a scholarship student at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts (along with classmates Frank Stella and Carl Andre), Frampton became conversant with multiple forms of artistic practice: he began with poetry and across his career conducted a knight’s tour of the visual arts, working in still photography and film, painting and printmaking, xerography, and early digital art. His entry into photography came in the late 1950s, when the medium was still adjusting to the shift from view-camera aestheticism to the urban mode of straight shooting. Frampton’s still work was presciently conceptual and marked by an intervention that bore an uncanny, but characteristic, admixture of high culture and hijinks.
Active as a teacher and theorist but best known for his experimental films, Frampton was accorded his very first film retrospective in the fall of 1972 at the Walker Art Center. His transition from still to moving pictures had been allegorized a year earlier in his 1971 film nostalgia, in which a series of his photographs was systematically destroyed on a hotplate. This action, captured on film, served both to enact a form of closure for the artist and to creatively suggest the allure of the motion picture as a medium for art—its formal possibilities, its vocation for recalibrating the past, and what the critic Annette Michelson read as its “conjunction of poetry and science.”1
Over the intervening years, until his untimely death in 1984, he labored on what he termed “three grand cooperations” with Marion Faller (his longtime companion and colleague) as well as an ambitious film cycle, Magellan. The former included his widely exhibited photographic series Sixteen Studies from Vegetable Locomotion (1975), a bald-faced historical fiction that posited the existence of images that complement Eadweard Muybridge’s celebrated studies of animal and human locomotion. Magellan, incomplete at the time of his death, constituted an unprecedented aspiration to render cinematically the entirety of human experience in a series of films designed to be screened sequentially over a period of one year and four days—what the artist described as “a work of sculpture in time rather than space.”2
Annette Michelson, “Time out of Mind: A Foreword,” in Hollis Frampton, Circles of Confusion: Film, Photography, Video Texts 1968–1980 (Rochester, New York: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1983), 18. ↩
Hollis Frampton, transcript of untitled lecture, December 1977, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge, Massachusetts, excerpted in Bruce Jenkins and Susan Krane, Hollis Frampton: Recollections/Recreations (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1984), 116. ↩