Frank Lebon, One Blood

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2024 by Little Big Man Books (here). Softbound with dust jacket, 10 x 7 inches, 292 pages with numerous color photographs. Includes a text by Laura Serejo Genes. Design by Joshua Hong. In an edition of 1000 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Frank Lebon is a 30-year old photographer, artist, animator, and filmmaker, based in London. He comes from a family of photographers. His father Mark and brother Tyrone are both commercial pros. You could say photography is in Frank Lebon’s blood, and perhaps he was always destined to publish a monograph of his pictures. But the actual sequence of events began with a fluke accident. While taking a portrait of his parents one day in 2020, his exposure was filtered through an unexpected obstruction. “The spark that ignited the idea,” he explains, “was originally the spark of a flash, my fingers pressed up against it, the light would shine through my finger and project the red of my blood upon my subject.”  

This passage is the brief introduction to Lebon’s debut monograph One Blood, a sprawling opus mixing family snaps, portraiture, head shots, scientific samples, flesh wounds, nightscapes, microscopic enlargements, and French surrealism. A pall of crimson lingers throughout, helping to unify a dense tome which might otherwise spin out of control. Any way you slice it, the book bleeds Lebon, from the bloody leaves on its cover to its ruby innards. An exhibition of the work runs through May 25th at Entrance in New York City (here).

Enchanted by his misplaced fingers, Lebon plunged ahead. Soon he was making such exposures intentionally, with the help of his subjects. He asked friends and family to deliberately block his flash with their own hands, imbuing themselves with a bloody glow. These photos became the series “Flesh Flash Portraits”, a core motif of One Blood. The book features not only flashed humans, but faces, meals, and household objects too, all bathed in orange and red. In photographic terms, their palette falls somewhere between Eggleston’s Red Ceiling and McCurry’s Afghan Girl.  

After these improvised experiments, Lebon fell further down the bloody rabbit hole. He ordered a blood testing kit and began pricking his finger to take regular samples. Soon he was asking his friends to do the same. Wherever he socialized and photographed, he would typically ask for a few blood drops from anyone willing. Such a request might have seemed unusual at any time, but especially during a global pandemic. In any case many complied. He stored their blood samples on scientific slides, filed by handwritten donor names.  

These tentative forays into bodily fluids presaged an actual health crisis. In 2020 Lebon was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Insulin shots and blood tests became a daily routine. Several photographs in One Blood document his lengthy hospital stay. We see medical machinery, sterile bedding, and illicit visits from his lover Carmen. In one memorable frame, Lebon’s gaunt figure is pocked with needle marks circled in red. Another photo shows his chest bogged down under blue medical patches. Graphic comparisons to the cover’s leafy droplets come naturally. 

Perhaps it was this unexpected brush with mortality which spurred his next move. Lebon began photographing the blood samples he’d collected under a microscope. His hyper-enlarged abstractions, called “Micro Portraits”, are eerie and unsettling. Cells, platelets, and bodily striations become elements in impressionist patterns, many soaked in blood-red hues speckled with yellows and umbers. They recall the primordial plasma of galaxies or Pollack paintings.

The raw speckled forms of Micro Portraits bleed into the gridded imagery of yet another project, Lebon’s half-framed portraits of friends. Some of these are flashed through fingers, some not. Perhaps the subjects crossover with the blood samples? That’s not clear, but these pictures zero in closely in another way. They concentrate on facial features, cropping heads down to eyes, ears, and teeth. The parts are then reassembled into paneled rows and columns, Cubism’s frailties restored to health, or something along those contact-sheeted lines. These and the Micro Portraits serve as disquieting context for One Blood’s more conventional exposures.

As if all that was not enough for one book, there is one final component to One Blood. Lebon photographed moped couriers—so-called “blood bikers”—carrying blood supplies to medical outlets across London. Shot in passing on night streets with no overt red tones, they come across as an outlier initially. How exactly do these dim vehicles fit into the sea of blood? Eventually we learn that the bike messengers are the community’s blood cells, urban vessels linking the city’s vital organs.  

When Lebon first conceived his book a few years ago—in the waning fog of the pandemic—these several disparate projects were still disjointed, and he naturally thought of them as separate chapters. It was Nick Haymes’ idea to blend the projects together into a free-styled sequence. Perhaps the edit was modeled on the frantic diversity of human cell life? In any case it works quite well here, especially when housed under a singular title One Blood. Little Big Man’s sharp design keeps the contents moving to a steady heartbeat, with clever cut outs, high gloss spot varnish, and (excuse the pun) full bleed imagery. Altogether it’s a tight shiny package, and a suitable vehicle for a photographer crossing over from the commercial world into fine art photobooks.

One Blood comes fast and furious, a literary version of photo montage or a pulsing artery. With scant introductory text, it’s a bewildering stew at first. Abstractions, red stains, handwritten slides, family snapshots. What’s going on here? More projects pile on, adding to the hodgepodge. Eventually the photos circle back on themselves, settling around Lebon’s daily activities. The book evolves into a visual memoir of sorts, a medical record and pandemic journal. Along with photos of his friends and family, Lebon himself is pictured repeatedly, the galvanizing center around which the other oddities orbit. Blood is the connecting metaphor.

After almost 300 pages of photos, an illustrated essay by Laura Serejo Genes finally clarifies the imagery. It’s written as a dual timeline, sketching out Lebon’s contemporary projects alongside the early 1900s work of French Surrealist photographer and radiologist Jacques-André Boiffard. The texts are informative, and a few of the Lebon-Boiffard connections do feel serendipitous, e.g. a mutual concern with big toes and slide photography. Although it makes for provocative reading, the Boiffard relationship feels a bit forced, a conceptual band-aid applied after the fact. Would other writers connect the same dots? Perhaps. Or these cellular ideas might ignore each other in passing. If they accidentally catalyzed, it might spark a new project. 

Collector’s POV: Frank Lebon is represented by DoBeDo in London and New York (here). Interested collectors should follow up with DoBeDo or with the artist directly via his website (linked in the sidebar)

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