Stuart Franklin captures a poignant tribute to Leonard Cohen

Stuart Franklin captures a poignant tribute to Leonard Cohen

Most people would just send a card. But if you’re a Magnum photographer and your devotions run as deep as Stuart Franklin’s clearly do, you want to give something a little special. Leonard Cohen – poet, songwriter, Canadian, mordant wit and broken heart – recently turned 80. And Franklin sent Cohen a book, a book he had made specially.

Dear Leonard, produced in collaboration with New York-based publisher Silas Finch, contains 32 silver gelatin prints of Franklin’s photographs, some from the archives and some shot exclusively for the book. Each image has a Cohen lyric running across it – ’Your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm’, for instance – letterpress-printed by hand in transparent magenta by Portland-based letterpress printer and edition binder Rory Sparks. Only 25 copies of the book are being made and only 15 are being made available to the public, at a cost of $2,250.

Franklin, a former president of Magnum, began his career at the Sunday Times in the late 1970s and then moved to the French photo agency Sygman. He worked in Beirut, Northern Ireland, Gaza and Sri Lanka and shot a series of iconic images during the Tiananmen Square uprising. For nearly two decades he also shot for National Geographic and his recent work has been more concerned with landscapes and their eradication. Through all this, Franklin has been listening to Leonard Cohen.

Just how personal a project this is for Franklin is made clear in a letter to Cohen, a copy of which is mounted in the book, envelope and all. Franklin writes about hearing Cohen’s music for the first time in 1969, when he was 13, the year his mother committed suicide. There is a picture that alludes to his mother’s death in the book.

Cohen’s music, says Franklin, was ’palliative relief from psychological trauma’. Cohen also inspired in Franklin the wanderlust that has taken him around the world. There are shots in Dear Leonard, of the inside of Libyan jails (’I’m a fool but I think that I can heal it’) and the Sydney Opera House from above (’Our steps will always rhyme’). One shot taken especially for the book is of Cohen’s best-known subject ’Suzanne’, a classical statue of a female nude found while walking with his wife along the Berg River, north of Cape Town, South Africa.

’Cohen’s lyrics are always ambiguous,’ says Franklin. ’They open up space. And that is what I want to do with my photography.’

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