Remembering Gunther Frank

Five years ago this June, Bellingham lost two of its most colorful and talented characters, Gunther Frank and Sean “Donnkie” Mansfield. They made their mark on Bellingham in their own ways – Donnkie was a celebrated snowboarder, while Gunther spent his days and nights with his camera, photographing the world and the Bellingham music scene. Gunther focused on bands and the audience, giving his photos a unique perspective not just on the music but the people who make it and enjoy it. On June 5, Make.Shift will host a reception featuring 18 of Gunther’s framed photos for all to experience.
It’s difficult to explain the brilliance of Gunther’s photography without having seen him in action. He did not stand in front of the bands, looking to capture the best moment; instead, he thrusted himself into the action, jumping on stage and getting in bands’ faces, capturing the action perfectly. The bands would sometimes be annoyed by his “in your face” methods, until they saw the shots and were blown away.
“He was a really unique person and his approach to everything was based on his life philosophy. It makes sense that his photography looked different than other people’s,” stated close friend Nora Hughes. “I remember when we first became friends and I wasn’t used to him yet – he was really quiet and shy. It really shocked me when he was taking this super bright flash in people’s faces and jumping around the stage.”
Make.Shift director Cat Sieh added, “His shooting style was the opposite of show photographers that holed up on the outskirts of the stage. He got right in your face, up on stage, down in front, whatever. He’d hold his camera up over his head, arc it backwards, put his flash way the hell out there. Watching him shoot, you didn’t have to know him to see how much passion and commitment he had for his craft and for the music scene.”
What’s Up! was lucky enough to include Gunther’s photography over several years. He was seemingly always shooting bands and, while we often didn’t have much space, he always had something cool to include.
The May gallery show, spearheaded by Nora along with Sieh and Make.Shift gallery director Jess Flegel, will show some of Gunther’s larger than life photography. The photos came directly from Gunther’s computer, held onto by his mother. The gallery show will be the first time Gunther’s work is featured this way.
Beginning with 6,000 photos on the computer, Nora, Cat and Jess sorted through all of his images to each pick 20 favorites. They then paired it down to the best 18.
Nora noted that, unfortunately, while the work shown will be fantastic, it doesn’t capture all of his best work. “The problem we ran into later was technology is really different than 2009,” she said.
While they were able to pull thousands of photos from his computer onto a hard drive, some of his best work was on his flickr site and backed up on CDs that have long since vanished. “He had the photos from shows – he’d take hundreds from a show then he’d pick the best ones and edit them,” said Nora. “I could tell which ones he liked the best” by which ones he edited. “My goal was to pick the photos he would want to have in the show,” she added.
Working on the show has been cathartic for Nora, who met Gunther in 2007 and instantly became close friends. “For the most part it’s just been really nice to concentrate on the task of organizing photos,” said Nora. “There have been little moments that were tough, but it’s been nice to see things and doing our part to help people remember.”
Nora also noted that photography was just one part of Gunther’s personality. “One thing I realized after he was lost – he was a lot of things to a lot of people. He had a lot of different groups of friends and they had different adventures. I was shocked by how many people he knew and how many people had an amazing story about him and how many people had been affected by him.” She added, “It’s hard to sum anybody up – he was more than just a photographer. I’m looking forward to revisiting the loss of him as a community. Hopefully people will remember stories and it won’t be just about his photos.”
Make.Shift is located at 306 Flora Street. For more information, see makeshiftproject.com.