Remembering Frank Cancian

By Gerhard Clausing •

It is an especially sad moment to take leave of a fellow photographer who was also a genuinely nice person. Frank passed away this month at the age of 86. We fondly remember him as a wonderful friend, who shared his expertise and experiences in documenting communities, especially in connection with Lacedonia, a long-term project that was also published as a highly regarded photobook, reviewed by Doug Stockdale in the PhotoBook Journal and in the PhotoExchange Journal in 2013. Frank got his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1963 and had a very successful career as a sociocultural anthropology professor at UC Irvine. In addition to his academic books and articles, he also published two other photobooks, Another Place: Photographs of a Maya Community (1974) and Orange County Housecleaners (2006).

Regarding Frank as a great colleague and friend, the picture above with Kathy B. Agin Shapiro at one of our annual photo exchanges says it all. Roger Bennett put it best: “I never, ever saw Frank angry or unpleasant. Always a gentle man. We have truly lost a friend and genuinely nice person. His photography mirrored his character, the very best. He will be missed by all, and how many of us can say that? Missed but not forgotten.”

Below is a picture of Frank and his wife Francesca, taken a few years ago at an Irvine Fine Arts Center exhibition (image courtesy of Roger Bennett).

Below I am showing a stellar image by Frank, supplied by Ellen Butler, as well as a few examples of Frank’s photography from Lacedonia. An Italian Town, 1957. Discussing his own work, Frank said, “I am a documentary photographer with a point of view. I prefer ordinary things – things that are not officially important. When recording the everyday world, I often look for the exotic in ordinary situations and for the ordinary in what many people see as exotic.” This major theme also illustrates what made him a great person: a superb sense of connectedness and a fondness for what it is that makes people and communities tick. We will certainly remember that lesson and will treasure having known him as a friend, always.

To check out the multifaceted nature of Frank’s photography, please go to the website featuring his work:

Jesus + Power, Oaxaca 2003 – Courtesy of Ellen Butler – Note and signature from verso

From Lacedonia:

This book went through several printings and two editions – Cover images supplied by Douglas Stockdale and Jan Brueckner

Articles and photographs published in the PhotoExchange Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoExchange Journal staff and the photographer(s).

One thought on “Remembering Frank Cancian

Add yours

  1. Frank was one of the great people I’ve met in life, who also happened to be a photographer. I mentioned at a PEx meeting once that I was headed to Chiapas, and just tonight was on a Zoom call with lasting friends that came about as a result of that trip… and because of Frank’s connections to the region. That visit, which was followed by numerous others to the magical lands of Southern Mexico, was just my first indication of his expansive interest in anthropology, whether it was academic or through a camera’s lens. Later, we shared a space with solo shows at the Irvine Fine Arts Center; and even more recently, got together monthly at a coffee shop in Irvine to share travel and photography adventures and simply contemplate the people going by (I’m thinking now of his “While Waiting” body of work). You knew Frank was an authentic and genuine soul from the moment you met him, yet I’m guessing would also recognize a depth of knowledge that belied his easygoing demeanor. He was what continues to be good about the world, when we take a moment to notice… like he often did.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: