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

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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

As a matter of professional conduct, Freson avoided injecting his personal opinion of a subject in his work. He made an exception for Eisenhower. "I thanked him for liberating us," said Freson, who was born in Belgium and lived there until the German occupation in 1944. Three members of Freson's family were killed in a bombing raid aimed at German target in France, and he later joined the British Royal Navy.

Eisenhower devised and helped implement the Allied war plan that defeated Germany in World War II.

The two men spent the afternoon together, touring the farm and adjacent battlefield.

"It was just the two of us," Freson said. "There were no secret services, no public relations people. It was just the two of us. So charming."

Freson photographed Eisenhower looking straight at the camera, in a heavy black coat, vest and tie, with one hand stuffed in his pocket. Later, he photographed Eisenhower from behind, as his subject walked away.

Eisenhower loved the photo from behind, and suggested that it be used for his obituary. When he died five years later, newspapers across the country used that image.

Freson spent three days with the painter Marc Chagall at his village home in France in the mid-1960s. Chagall took him through the house room by room. Freson sensed the artist was shy and protective. Ultimately, Chagall allowed Freson to photograph him in his studio, which was Freson's desire.

"The way he held the brush, and the way he approached the canvas and integrated with it says a lot about the artist," Freson said. "The great artists, they all have the natural faculty of seeing anything in life as if it was the first time they've seen it. They see things we don't see anymore."

Miro, he said, "was a very 'home' person. He wanted me to photograph him with his wife, his daughter and his grandchild."

He assisted Penn on the Picasso shoot. They met at Picasso's home in France, and at first Picasso was reluctant to allow Penn, Freson and an editor who accompanied them into his house. They had an appointment confirmed, but Picasso hesitated. Only after conferring with a mutual friend who vouched for Penn's qualifications did Picasso allow the entourage into his private world.

He gave them a brief tour, showed them some recent work and sat for a photo.

THE MOVE TO MAINE

Freson and his wife, Jeannette, spent most of their life in New York City, and lived for many years in France. As they got older, they opted for a quieter lifestyle.

They have lived in Maine since 1998.

"It's so peaceful here," Freson said. "It's much less stressful than living in New York City, especially at our age. Maine is a great resource of culture, and the people here are very honest. I love living in Maine because it gives me time, especially in the winters, which I love. I love the winter because it allows me time to work."

They bought a seaside home on Library Hall Lane on Bailey Island almost by chance and accident. They came to Maine for a fall vacation. After shopping at L.L. Bean in Freeport, they looked for a nearby hotel on the water.

It was late fall, and most of the seasonal places were closed. But they found a hotel on Bailey Island still open.

They took a room, and the next morning went for drive. Their future home had a For Sale sign out front, and they bought it almost on the spot. They fell immediately in love with the 1892 shingled cottage, which today looks more like a mansion with a magnificent porch and neatly coifed lawn and gardens.

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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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