Huffpost Arts

Inspirational 'American Beauty' Photographs By Claiborne Swanson Frank

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(c) Claiborne Swanson Frank
(c) Claiborne Swanson Frank

Georgia O’Keefe once wrote to Mabel Dodge Luhan, “I feel there is something unexplored about women that only a woman can explore.” With this in mind, we present the work of Claiborne Swanson Frank, a photographer living and working in New York. Swanson Frank was formerly Anna Wintour’s assistant at Vogue, and from the photos below we can see the magazine’s influence on this budding photographer.

We talked to Swanson Frank over the phone as she walked her dog and answered questions about her work. Slightly breathless, she was excited to discuss her debut photo collection from Assouline, titled, “American Beauty" -- which features over 100 photos of inspirational women from their twenties to mid-forties.

After taking a class, she decided to follow her dream of becoming a professional photographer in 2010. Her first project was “Indigo Light” -- a series of 29 portraits of her female friends and family members that present the women on their own terms. To Swanson Frank, portraiture is a collaborative process; she works with each woman to present her at her very best, but also remembers that the clothes should always be the woman’s own; it’s not a fashion shoot, but a moment of being, crystallized in time.


Casey Fremont, Art Production Fund maven

HuffPost Arts: What’s the difference between magazine portraits and your portraits?

CSF: If you’re shot by a magazine, you’re in borrowed clothes and in locations that don’t really matter to you. I wanted it to be a comfortable, organic experience … it was really about collaborating with these women and starting the conversation about who they are in the world and what moves them. When this ride was over, if they had one portrait to tell the story of who they were, what would it look like?


Jenna Lyons, J. Crew Executive Creative Director

HuffPost Arts: What is different about being a woman in America?

CSF: To be a woman in America is such a gift because we have such a freedom to express ourselves and to celebrate our accomplishments. I wanted to tell that story through portraits of these women, through these conversations. There’s been two wars, the collapse of the economy, 9/11, and women in America are wildly different now than ever before -- this really hasn’t been explored on this level before. This is the new creative guard, in a sense.


Bonnie Morrison, fashion insider

HuffPost Arts: Were these all women you knew in some way?

CSF: It was originally inspired by women in my world for sure, and coming from Vogue and knowing a lot of my friends, the world becomes quite small. I would sit down with friends and say, ‘Who are these interesting girls of the moment?’ and then sit down and research them. Almost on every shoot I asked girls who they thought was interesting, but at the end of the day, I had to be personally inspired by each woman. I always made the final edits based on women who are creating in America but who also had a certain depth and soulfulness; they also had a special light about them.


Isca Greenfield-Sanders, artist

HuffPost Arts: Did you have a cut-off age?

I purposely wanted to keep it young – up to the mid-forties, because I wanted to really explore how these women became who they are today, and I thought it was important to have a mix of women in their twenties figuring it out, and then a women crushing it in their thirties and forties. It made me explore the journey of women as I was going through it myself. I personally really grew into my own skin and it was such a gift to learn from these women. They all had this great courage to follow their dreams, and at the end of the day, this is the only thing that matters.


Erin Fetherston, fashion designer

'American Beauty' is available through Assouline here.

Her first solo show is at Lu Magnus Gallery in New York, and will open on March 30, 2012. For more information visit

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this article, we listed Claiborne Swanson Frank as "Claire" in the title. We also originally listed Casey Fremont as "Freemont."