Exploring New York City in the footsteps of poet Frank O’Hara

Exploring New York City in the footsteps of poet Frank O’Hara

Frieze has enlisted New York-based photographer Clément Pascal to bring to life the poetry of Frank O’Hara (1926–1966). Commissioned ahead of Frieze New York (2–6 May), the series celebrates the city’s people, streets and architecture through the American writer’s seminal collection Lunch Poems.

Reflection of a skyscraper in the back window a New York City cab

The 16 images that form the campaign feature excerpts from Frank O’Hara’s 1964 Lunch Poems, graphically overlaid on Clément Pascal’s revealing glimpses of the New York City. Written during his lunch breaks from working at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, New York), Lunch Poems was O’Hara’s most seminal collection, described by fellow American poet John Ashbery as ‘shatter[ing] the congealed surface of academic poetry]. ‘I love the image with the reflection of a skyscraper in the back window of a cab,’ says Pascal of this image, ‘the shape of the window really gives an impression of an intensely towering figure.’

Rhapsody, excerpt from Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara. Used by permission of City Lights Books. Photography: Clément Pascal. Art direction: Amy Preston and Valentine Ammeux

A golden equestrian statue with a pigeon passing by

Frieze head of design Amy Preston approached Pascal for the campaign, which took six months to reach fruition. The photographer quickly familiarised himself with O’Hara’s work, canvassing Midtown for his animated photographs. Pascal adds: ‘We were also in close contact with [Frank’s sister] Maureen, and so could ask her about specific locations mentioned in the poems to make sure that the work we were producing was a good reflection of the words themselves.’

Music, excerpt from Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara. Used by permission of City Lights Books. Photography: Clément Pascal. Art direction: Amy Preston and Valentine Ammeux

A lime green car hood

The poems’ rhythms echo the varying speeds of a city walk, and like such a walk, the poems encompass high culture and popular culture alike, from painting, music and dance to phone conversations and Manhattan street advertising. ‘Reading these poems,’ says Frieze senior designer Valentine Ammeux, ‘‘you really feel like you’re going on a journey – like you’re walking along with him.

A Step Away from Them, excerpt from Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara. Used by permission of City Lights Books. Photography: Clément Pascal. Art direction: Amy Preston and Valentine Ammeux

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