September 8, 2013

A life in pictures

The photographer Robert Freson, who captured on film some of the most famous faces of our time, has settled into a happy – and still busy – existence on Bailey Island.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

HARPSWELL — Robert Freson has photographed presidents, kings and queens and a pope.

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Robert Freson displays photographs of children that he took in Ireland in the 1960s.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Robert Freson

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

His tally also includes a prince and princess, and the most influential artists of our times: Chagall, Dali, Miro and Hockney.

Now 86 -- he turns 87 next month -- Freson is busy taking stock of his life and career, bringing order to the half-million or so slides that he has neatly stored in metal file cabinets in the basement of his stately Bailey Island home.

He also has 62 diaries that tell the remarkable story of a man who arrived in United States in 1948 from his war-torn European home with a suitcase, an American wife and $100 in his pocket. He became among the most successful photographers of his time, shooting thousands of images across the world for Look, Esquire and National Geographic magazines, for the Sunday Times of London, and becoming a best-selling author of books about fine French and Italian cuisine.

"It's been an incredible life," says Freson, who spent the first dozen years of his professional career working as a studio assistant for photographer Irving Penn in New York. Because of Penn's reputation as one of the best photographers of his time, that job put Freson in direct contact with the most influential people of the 1950s and 1960s, including Pablo Picasso and then-Sen. John F. Kennedy and the writer T.S. Eliot.

"The quality of the knowledge and culture I had when I first started was as limited as a 21-year-old could be," he said. "But working with Irving Penn, I met the most famous people of our time. You meet the face behind the names that you have heard, and you get to know them a little bit being with them for three or four hours."

AWARD-WINNING CAREER

After leaving Penn's studio, he spent the balance of his career as a freelance photojournalist, creating iconic images of actors Sophia Loren, Omar Sharif, President Dwight D. Eisenhower after he left office, and a host of visual artists.

He has won numerous Art Director's awards for his commercial work, and one of his cuisine books, "The Taste of France," remains in print and has sold more than 275,000 copies in six languages. It was first published in 1982, and he still receives royalty checks.

He was nearly attacked by an angry communist mob in India and trekked dangerously across the Sahara desert and the Rhub al Khali desert of Saudi Arabia.

He photographed the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles and the funeral of English statesman Winston Churchill. He has photographed Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Noor of Jordan and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and Pope John Paul.

He accepted well-paying commercial work to support the work he loved most, which was telling the stories of people and places around the world as a journalist. He views his individual photographs as one long movie. "Photojournalism is a form of cinematography," he said. "It's a concentrated film."

He declines to reveal secrets about the private lives of his subjects, though he will allow that one of his best known images of Sophia Loren is one in which he captured her with a tear running down her cheek. He wanted a shot of her full of emotion at the loss of her first child, and asked her to cry for him. After sending everyone else out of her bedroom, the actress obliged.

A THANK-YOU FOR EISENHOWER

One of his favorite assignments was photographing Eisenhower in November 1964, three years after Eisenhower left office. The former president wanted a formal portrait for the cover of his book, and tabbed Freson for the job. The two men met at the Eisenhower home and farm, adjacent to Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Robert Freson with a couple of favorite photographs: Dwight Eisenhower, taken in 1964, and Sophia Loren, taken in 1965.

Shawn Patrick Ouellete/Staff Photographer

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Robert Freson has kept meticulous handwritten records of his work. Below, the artist David Hockney and the Eisenhower portrait.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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In addition to his photography, Robert Freson has authored books about fine cuisine. “The Taste of France” is still in print, having sold more than 275,000 copies.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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A Robert Freson photo: The wedding of England’s Charles and Diana.

Robert Freson

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A Robert Freson photo: Artist Marc Chagall.

Robert Freson

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Dwight Eisenhower

Robert Freson

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A Robert Freson photo: Artist Salvador Dali.

Robert Freson

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A Robert Freson photo: Actress Sophia Loren.

Robert Freson

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A Robert Freson photo: Director Alfred Hitchcock.

Robert Freson

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Artist David Hockney.

Robert Freson

  


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