Words by Leigh Patterson
Photographs Justin Chung

Sean Frank

Los Angeles, CA

Sean Frank
Los Angeles, CA

When we visit film director Sean Frank, it’s the onset of spring and everything is alive — electric jacarandas line the Echo Park streets, and his daily running route through the trails of Elysian Park is punctuated by vivid yellow mustard seed in full bloom. It’s too nice to stay inside, so we go for a walk, which in retrospect feels like the best possible way to discuss creativity with someone in a perennial state of motion.

Raised in Bristol, Sean studied at Central Saint Martins and Goldsmiths in London before moving to New York in 2015 and Los Angeles four years later. He also holds a deep connection with South Africa, where his parents were born — his father a political activist during Apartheid — and where much of his extended family now resides in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Sean’s curiosity toward the ways others move through the world is unwavering — a clear-eyed observer, finding possibility in the edges of both what’s so familiar it's overlooked, and what's so distant it feels impenetrable. His professional lens tends to zoom in to pan out; it comments on universal ideas through the distilled experiences of individuals. More broadly, his work examines the ways diasporic communities maintain passion, stoke joy, and persevere amid oppressive environments.
This outlook has presented itself in Sean’s work in a range of directions, frequently centering around fringe communities and subcultures, everything from shadowing Bed-Stuy roller skaters to documenting the idiosyncratic persistence of sound system culture among Dominican Republic immigrants.
“The best ideas are often sparked by the most unexpected moments,” he explains. “Much of my work has been led by serendipity, being open, and observing the moments you could never have planned.” His most recent endeavor is a debut feature film narratively based on a salsa dancer named Essence, who Sean met by chance while passing a dance studio in Harlem. Surveying the space, he spotted Essence in the back of the room — removed from the crowd, dancing on her own. Since connecting that day, a years-long friendship has unfolded, and Sean’s film considers his protagonist’s refusal to shrink despite a world that attempts to diminish her. There’s a dogged hope that threads through Sean’s work, yet rather than misplaced optimism, it reads as pure observation: light creeps into even the most impossible conditions. If your eyes are open, you’ll find beauty even when you aren’t looking for it. On a recent trip home to South Africa, he spent a week filming his 92-year-old grandmother, capturing her “singing to her plants, making porridge in the mornings.” He goes on, “She was puzzled, wondering why I’d be interested in filming her. But she’s my most fascinating subject to date. I find profound meaning in the everyday, in rituals, and what gets people out of bed. I’m grateful to be able to recognize and capture a beauty in others that perhaps they don't see in themselves.”

Making Sense Vol. 1

Tobias Jesso Jr.
April Valencia
Sean Frank
Monroe Alvarez
Brian Lee
Molly Sedlacek
Ido Yoshimoto
Zoe Dering
Obi Kaufmann
Erica Chidi
Sonoko Sakai
Katsuhisa Sakai

Full story available in Making Sense Vol. 1 Book

Making Sense is a publication series with Le Labo Fragrances that is a study in distilling life to its essence, as told through the stories of 12 individual who have fearlessly hand-crafted lives of their own making.

Read more about the series here.