Paul Franz, Franklin County's photographer
Closing reception for his 'Franklin' exhibit is Thursday, July 31
A maple tree puts on a show of its fall colors in New Salem on South Main Street. In the distance is the Quabbin Reservoir.
Recorder photographer Paul Franz and his dog, Dixie, pause for a moment by the Sawmill River in Montague. Dixie helps him break the ice with people, especially children, when he is out photographing, Franz says. Recorder/Trish Crapo
The Ferris wheel looms large in the Midway at the Franklin County Fair.
A candlelight vigil held at Greenfield Gardens in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.
This is a family photo Franz took of his eldest daughter, Isabella, right, and her friend Alexandria Chase as the sun goes down at Beavertail Park, R.I.
Foam and foliage on the Millers River. This photograph is also part of Franz’s “Franklin” exhibit.
Recorder file photo/Paul Franz
This appears to be a honeybee.
In this 2013 photo, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick holds two male bear cubs that were being checked out and weighed by Mass Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in Conway. The 175-pound mother was sedated and examined before the all three were returned to their den.
Conrad Halberg, the superintendent of poultry at the Franklin County Fair, in his Shelburne Falls coop with his award-winning Light Brahma cock and hen.
Recorder photographer Paul Franz pauses while photographing out at the Sawmill River in Montague. The four rivers in our area are part of the reason he loves Franklin County, Franz says. Recorder/Trish Crapo
One recent morning when senior Recorder photographer Paul Franz was driving his daughter to school, he saw a man riding a bicycle in the pouring rain, one hand on the handlebars, the other holding an enormous umbrella the size of a patio umbrella over his head as he pedaled through the deluge.
Franz shakes his head. “It seems like I always see the best photos when I’m in a hurry to go someplace else.”
At those moments, when he doesn’t have time to stop and pull out his camera, “I pass up some of the best images,” Franz says.
For a photographer, these un-captured images are like the “one that got away” for a fisherman and photographers tend to remember them as precisely as any image they’ve captured. Yet, for every image that got away from Franz, there must be thousands that have made it into the paper during his 25 years as a staff photographer at The Recorder, some of them winning awards from the New England Press Association and other organizations. And there are, no doubt, thousands more that he shot for himself or for his freelance clients, which include local colleges and private high schools, businesses, artists and individuals.
Now through about mid-August, a well-chosen sampling from Franz’s recent photos of nature scenes in Franklin County is on display at the Hope & Olive in Greenfield during regular restaurant hours. The closing reception for the exhibit, titled “Franklin,” is Thursday, July 31, 4 to 6 p.m.
The 21 photographs that make up the exhibit offer viewers windows into the way Franz looks at the world, or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say the ways he looks at the world, since part of what interests Franz about photography is the camera’s ability to show things from varying perspectives, or to show things that the human eye can’t see.
“You put a camera on a tripod, it can see in the dark,” Franz says. “You put a camera on a long exposure at night, you can get a star streak. That’s a cool image, but you can’t see it (with the naked eye).”
In several of the photos up at Hope & Olive, Franz has used a slow shutter speed to capture the flowing waters of area rivers, blurring them into a silky sheen. In another, he used an extremely wide-angle lens, called a fish eye, to distort the already curved trunks of birches — left bent by a late-winter snowstorm — into gracefull arches. A photograph taken inside an old charcoal kiln in Leverett gives a glimpse into a dark, light-flecked world seldom entered. In another, ice bulges on stems, resembling glassy pods in an abstract composition Franz photographed down below a dam on the Connecticut River.
“The last thing I want to do is just shoot eye level all the time with a normal lens that’s normal sight. That’s what everybody sees all the time,” Franz says.
He carries a step ladder in the back of his truck to enable him to get up high for a shot — he captured the swell of people as the Survivor Lap stepped off to begin a Relay for Life event this way one year — or he’ll crouch down low and use a macro lens to focus on a single bee pollinating a flower, taking advantage of the macro lens’ shallow depth of field to blur the flower petals and the yard beyond into soft layers of color.
“Your eyes are so fantastic, they focus on everything,” Franz says. “You can try to make your eyes not focus but they do.”
People behind the person you are talking to may appear blurred, but as soon as you glance at them, they snap into focus, Franz pointed out. Our eyes’ ability to focus is, “part of what keeps us alive,” he says.
A camera lens, on the other hand, can selectively focus, helping the viewer know what to pay attention to within a photograph.
“If you were looking at this,” Franz says, gesturing at the photo of the bee, “you’d be looking down at the grass, at the dirt, the bricks next to the house. But no, this is just a bee in a flower. I can bring you up close and show it to you.”
You wouldn’t be able to see the hovering bee’s wings, the way you can in the photograph, Franz points out, because they’re moving too fast. “But I can stop ’em, and there they are.”
When Franz began working for The Recorder in 1989, he shot black-and-white film. On the lookout for interesting things to photograph, he looked not for color but for contrast. In a black-and-white image, Franz pointed out, “Blue is gray, red is gray, green is gray. Everything’s gray, so you have to look for high-contrast situations, lots of light and shadow.”
Newspaper photographers also developed their own film and printed their own prints in the paper’s darkrooms that same day.
“You shot in the morning and you had to leave at least three hours at the end of the day to process and print,” Franz said.
Digital cameras have changed all that. “Now I can literally go in and download a photo in three minutes,” he said. But although processing digital images is simpler and quicker, Franz says he misses the darkroom.
“It was kind of magic seeing the images appear in the trays. I had a lot of fun in darkrooms, so I do miss that part. But I don’t miss smelling like a pickle,” he adds. “And having brown specks all over my shirts from the chemicals.”
As senior staff photographer, Franz shoots three types of assignments: feature photos, which are stand-alone scenic or human interest shots (think misty fields, iced-over rivers, kids playing at the swimming hole); breaking news (a flood or a fire, the scene of a bank robbery or car accident — or a car accident at a bank, which happened recently); and photos that illustrate stories the reporters are working on (portraits of political figures or new business owners, the site of a proposed construction project, a soccer or basketball game for a sports story).
“Sports is great because it’s always candid,” Franz says. Players “don’t care that you’re there. They’re not looking at you, you don’t have to ask them to do anything, you just have to be there.”
“That’s 50 percent of photography, just being there,” Franz adds. “The other half is doing the right thing to capture the image. But you can’t do that if you’re not there.”
Franz says, of news photos, “We’re trying to provide information but still make it visually interesting.”
“Photographers’ blues is power lines and exit signs,” he says. There are power lines across every view, he says, and “there’s a glowing red exit sign” in every photo of a cute elementary school play or important town hall meeting.
“But I can’t take those out of the news photos and I don’t. There’s not much manipulation in any of these photographs,” Franz says, looking around the exhibit at the Hope & Olive. “It’s all pretty straight.”
Asked if, in the course of his work as news photographer, he prefers one type of assignment over others, Franz shrugs and replies, “I like everything.”
He qualifies this by adding, “I’m uncomfortable shooting people, even if they’re criminals, if they don’t want to be shot. If someone doesn’t want to have their picture taken, I really don’t want to take their picture. But sometimes I have to.”
For instance, he gets sent into courtrooms to photograph people accused of crimes, Franz says, or once he was sent to a house that had been the scene of a murder, where a man came out on the porch and yelled at him.
Franz told the man, “I’m sorry. I’ll wait until you go back in the house, but I’m going to take a picture from the road. My boss sent me here to do that so I’m going to, I’m sorry.”
“It would have been a better photo with him screaming at me,” Franz says now, “but I don’t want to do that.”
Fires, too, are “a double-edged sword,” he says. “Visually, a fire is awesome, but I don’t want anybody to get hurt.”
Franz, who lives close to downtown in Greenfield, has a pager at home and a scanner in his truck that will alert him of breaking news such as a big fire, or an “all call.”
Franz’s truck, a medium-body, 4-wheel drive Toyota pickup, serves as his roving photography equipment room. “I don’t carry a camera bag anymore,” he says. “I just drive around in my truck.”
Franz carries an assortment of lenses, including telephoto, wide angle and a fish eye lens, a second camera body and wireless flash units, though he prefers natural light and only chooses flash, “if I can help out the natural light.”
The truck’s 4-wheel drive has come in handy during floods or snowstorms, when Franz has to be out on the roads photographing regardless of the weather. Or, when the weather’s the story, as during Tropical Storm Irene, when Franz drove through deep water while out documenting the storm’s impact on the county. Like his predecessor, Recorder photographer Chuck Blake, Franz has been known to arrive at the scene before emergency response personnel.
Franz grew up in Connecticut and came to the area when he attended the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He “fell into” photography “completely by accident,” he says. “It just found me.”
As a boy, he’d always liked to photograph, Franz says, and, when he was about 14, his dad gave him his first good Nikon camera. But at UMass-Amherst, he ended up sharing an apartment with the editor of the university’s newspaper, The Collegian. Through this connection, Franz began to work as the paper’s photo editor, moving on to do an internship with The Daily Hampshire Gazette and to work for the university’s photo services.
Franz actually began at The Recorder in 1988 as an intern, he says. About halfway through his internship, photographer Bob Stern announced that he was leaving. Stern told Franz, “You’re good enough to get this job, you should try to get it.”
The Recorder passed on him the first time, hiring someone else, Franz recalled, but called him back two months later when that photographer didn’t work out.
“And I’ve been there ever since,” Franz says, shrugging.
Asked how he thinks Franklin County has changed over the 25 years he’s been photographing it, Franz answers, “Slowly. For the better, I think. When I first moved here, the only place you could get a cup of coffee was Dunkin’ Donuts.”
Now there are many good coffee shops and restaurants in Greenfield and surrounding towns and the schools are “improving vastly,” Franz says.
“It’s a good place to raise your kids … I like the slower pace here. I don’t like the high-paced city living.”
Franz likes to kayak and canoe and fish. “I bring my fishing rod and my camera,” he says.
He’s driven the back roads of this county hundreds of times over, searching for feature photos. Does he ever have days he just can’t find them?
“It’s one of the hardest things to do, is just generate photos out of thin air,” Franz says. “I mean, if I’m given assignments, I’m sent somewhere to get some images, it’s gonna happen.
“Some days when I have some free time, I just drive in a direction I haven’t been in in a while and literally get to an intersection and flip a coin. And go whichever way the coin takes me.”
Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.