“It’s very exciting. I’m adapting to my skills,” says Franks, who took the eye-catching lacrosse photo atop Mount Tamalpais that currently appears on Dominican’s website. “I realize this is what I love.”
Three times a week, Franks visits a metal shop in downtown San Rafael where he spends up to an hour snapping photos of workers. He is in the process of turning his work into a photo documentary for the capstone thesis exhibition at the San Marco Gallery in Alemany Library in April.
“I have an interest in gritty hard work and want to create a story about that,” says Franks, who has worked numerous manual labor jobs and admires the blue collar people who around him that influences his photography. “I really like the mundane. The no-namers. Their story is interesting to me and I want to tell it and I think people will find it interesting.”
Spending hours upon hours in an ironworks shop is not how Franks envisioned his life when he came to Dominican. He had an interest in art at Vashon Island High School in Washington but, he says, “I didn’t really know if that was a path for me.”
Instead, Franks was focused on lacrosse. He was recruited by Dominican's lacrosse program and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, but chose to play closer to home and loved the Dominican campus when he visited.
“I was really just focused on sports. I was living young,” Franks says. “I thought, ‘I’m going to be playing lacrosse and living in California. How can I say no? I’m in.’ ”
As a freshman, Franks was named the team’s “Newcomer of the Year,’ yet his biggest score came when he decided to switch his major from business administration to graphic art. He was inspired to change majors after taking a digital drawing class from Robin McCloskey, who recognized Franks’ ability as an artist and encouraged him to further explore it.
“His tenacity, which if anything is even stronger in him now, is such an important quality for creating successful work,” says McCloskey, a faculty member in Dominican's Department of Art, Art History and Design. “He is pretty fearless about putting himself in situations where it is possible for him to photograph people and places that are not often seen - such as San Quentin prison or the small welding shop in San Rafael. He questions himself and his work and pushes himself to keep improving.”
As a sophomore, Franks shined. He earned the lacrosse team’s “Most Outstanding Player” award and, for a class project, created a giant 4-by-5 foot replica camera comprised of chicken wire and plaster and painted it black. He decided on a whim to show it off at art event, First Fridays, in Oakland and it was a hit. He stuck a real camera inside the mock camera and acquired a leopard carpet and photo montage of a fat cat capsizing from Goodwill and created a portrait sitting. He even sold some of the shots he took.
“It was awesome. People loved the enthusiasm and effort I put into it,” Franks says. “I ended the year on such a high note. I really felt I would continue with lacrosse and with school and make my own career.”
Then Franks hit a snag. He started struggling with lacrosse and the injuries he incurred playing it. That forced him to give up the sport and focus on his photography. It was a hard loss for the Penguins’ lacrosse team, yet his coach, Ned Webster, feels Franks has positioned himself well for a life beyond the sport.
“Artistic athletes like Austin are some of my favorite people because they use their minds and their bodies, they are both sensitive and intense, and I think what Austin has learned from team sports -- hard work, commitment, communicating honestly and succinctly, performing with confidence -- will aid him greatly in his artistic pursuits,” Webster says. “His future is exciting to think about."
Franks is now adjusting to life without lacrosse, but keeping himself involved. For the second year in a row, he took photos of the team and individual players to sell and help promote the Dominican program. He also is videotaping the team on and off the field for a documentary film.
That is allowing Franks to remain close to the team, as his career is moving in a different direction. He created a time-lapse video for the Inside Out project on the Dept. of Art, Art History and Graphics website. He also bought a new camera for himself as a birthday present in November and his parents helped him buy a new lens for Christmas.
“A career in creative pursuit is not a straight path, nor is it an easy one,” McCloskey says. “But with his willingness to work, intelligence and creative capacity I can't wait to see what he will accomplish.”
The love of lacrosse has been replaced by the love of photography and the prospects of a career as a commercial photographer or photo journalist. The reality of the situation is lacrosse isn’t the only thing that Franks is good at on his feet. He has a new perspective.
“It’s what I make it,” Franks says. “The level I want to be as an artist needs much more time.”