Frank Oscar Larson was born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in 1896, the son of Swedish immigrants who moved to New York in early 1890’s. Frank’s father John Larson was a foreman at Hecla Iron Works in Williamsburg, one of the nation’s premier manufacturers of decorative wrought iron gates and installations. After serving in World War I as an artillery man and then completing his college education, Frank took a job with Empire Trust Company in Manhattan, where he worked his way up the company ladder to become an auditor for the bank. He worked there until he retired in the late 1950’s.
According to his website, Frank had a number of hobbies which provided for him a creative outlet and a much needed relief from his 9 to 5 banking job (don’t we all). He played the violin, carved wooden sculptures and was an avid photographer! It was the latter of the three that became a focal point of his as time went on. By 1949 both of his sons had left home, and he began to delve into photography with a passion. For the next 16 years he took thousands of photographs, mostly with a medium-format Rolleiflex camera. On weekends in the early 1950’s he would leave home early in the morning on photographic expeditions to exotic places like the Bowery, Chinatown or Times Square, or to less exotic places like Central Park, The Cloisters or nearby Kissena Park. Unfortunately, during a trip to the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Frank suffered a stroke and died three days later. It seems significant to me that a man who had such a passion for capturing every day life in New York City would have shuffled off this mortal coil during the 1964 World’s Fair.
The world, and his own family, weren’t aware of the amount of photographs Frank had shot until his son’s widow was going through his belongings in 2009. What she found was an astonishing collection of black and white photos the likes of which have only been seen in rare similar cases such as with Vivian Meyer’s collection. It believe that Frank was shooting these photographs because he genuinely enjoyed them. Unlike Vivian Meyer, I don’t think he was insecure about his photos (her reason for never displaying them), but instead was shooting them for simple enjoyment and not for publicity. These photographic trips were like cultural excursions to him. He was growing his mind and satiating his creative pallet. Whether or not he was directly influenced by people like Ted Croner, Saul Leiter, and Ruth Orkin, who were influential members of the New York School during the 1940s and 1950s is unknown, but in retrospect, much like Vivian Meyer, Frank Larson belongs mentioned in the same breath as these world famous photographers. He captured life in New York in a Rockwellian manner, and when you consider the social upheaval that New York saw happen during the 1950s and 1960s, his photographs become even more important. They’re both a work of art and a piece of history. The 1950s is often considered the last decade that New York (and America) was “innocent.” Many of these photographs capture a simple life amongst both blue and white collar people that the Cold War and Vietnam would change forever in the coming decade.
I’ve taken almost sixty of Frank Larson’s photos and have displayed them for your viewing pleasure below. They showcase a wide array of photographs and subjects, all of which will give you a great idea of what daily life was like in New York in the 1950s. To help set the mood, I’ve included Les Brown‘s “Park Avenue Escapade,” a track often considered one of New York’s most iconic. I hope you enjoy!