Roger Franklin – known as Rog to his close friends and family – didn’t join the band, but he remained a mainstay of the local music and arts scene. (photo provided)
Roger Franklin had a long career in the Ukiah Unified School District, but he is known throughout Mendocino County for his photos of concerts, car shows and other events . He died at his home on Friday, January 27 at the age of 75.
Roger – known as Roger to his close friends and family – didn’t join the band, but he remained a mainstay of the local music and arts scene. His instrument of choice wasn’t a guitar or drums, but his camera, which he used to score tickets to hundreds of concerts, beer festivals and other events. In return, Franklin provides professional-quality images to musicians, promoters and performers, always free of charge.
“If you go to an event and say you’re a photographer, they always let you in and shoot,” Franklin told The Ukiah Daily Journal in February 2019.
“He (Franklin) was brilliant, his photography was superb, and he has thousands of pictures to prove it,” said Ukiah landscape photographer Robert B. Taylor, Franklin’s close friend and frequent travel companion.
“He was known to a lot of people and he was always very generous with sharing his pictures,” Taylor added.
“He was always very friendly, everyone in town knew him, everyone liked him,” agrees his brother Ken Franklin. “They all remember him taking pictures everywhere.”
Roger Lee Franklin was born on April 2, 1947 in Culver City, California, the Los Angeles suburb known as MGM Studios. His parents, George Washington Franklin and Martha Niswander Franklin, soon moved to Burbank, where George established a successful carpet cleaning business. Once in Burbank, Roger joined two brothers — Ken and Gregory — and a younger sister, Bonnie, who were born three years apart.
Franklin graduated from Burbank High School in 1965. He met his future wife, Rebecca “Becky” Norris, a year earlier at the Wee-Winders Auto Club meeting in Burbank. “It was love at first sight,” recalls Rebecca. The couple dated for four years, culminating in an intimate wedding on May 10, 1968, in the chapel of the Methodist church.
To avoid the possibility of drafting and serving in Vietnam, Franklin enlisted in the Air National Guard and served in Van Nuys for six years, where he learned to be a teletype operator, a skill that earned him a job in Burbank. Warner Bros. Studios got a job in the early 1970s.
“There were no computers back then, so all the messages were sent from his office,” recalls Rebecca. Franklin worked closely with a number of directors and producers, and the young couple was able to attend many screenings with the film’s stars. Frank Sinatra even gave them a wool blanket, which the family still keeps.
“It was a fun show,” Rebecca added.
On April 10, 1972, the Franklins had their first son, Greg, named after Roger’s younger brother, Gregory, who was 6 years old when he was hit by a car on his way to school in 1960. Before long, the growing family put the glamor of the film industry behind them and bought a house in Bollen, California, on the edge of the Mojave Desert, near Rebecca’s parents.
In Boron, Franklin worked as a mechanic at the US Borax and began to dabble in photography. In the days before digital cameras freed photographers from having to use basic chemistry in their art, he set up a darkroom in their home. Franklin’s original motivation for picking up the camera was to photograph Greg and the couple’s second son, Daniel, born in 1977.
After Rebecca’s mother passed away in 1986, the Franklin family moved north to Ukiah, California, where Roger and Rebecca began their long-term careers in the Ukiah Unified School District. Roger serves every school in the district as a technology and systems specialist, while Rebecca teaches third grade at Nokomis School. Roger’s younger brother Ken and his wife Suzy also teach elementary school there. Roger retired from the district in 2009 and Rebecca joined him a year later.
“Anything mechanical, he’s the best guy in the district to fix it, including computers, and pretty much everything else,” Taylor said.
But it was in Ukiah’s cooler climate that Franklin became a photographer and integrated into the local music scene. He has amassed photos of countless concerts, from Willie and the Nighthawks at a brew pub walking distance from his home, to BB King in Port Konotti, Lake County, and even a punk wrestling show at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
Franklin’s Daily Journal photo credits date back to 1996, and several of his 1990s punk wrestling show Incredibly Strange Wrestling photos were published in Bob Calhoun’s memoir, Beer, Blood & Cornmeal (ECW Press, 2008) .
Franklin with his friend Robert B. Taylor and photographer Amy Melious at the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah in March 2019 Museum) jointly hosted a public exhibition of their work titled “Gathering Light.”
“His photographs are a tribute to the creativity, focus, energy and raw emotion of the musicians on stage,” Daily Journal reporter Carole Brodsky said of Franklin’s work. “In intimate moments when the boundaries between audience and performer fade, Franklin’s photographs expose those vulnerable parts of the performer’s soul.”
“That was the highlight,” Taylor said of working with his longtime friend.
“I really want everyone to know how generous he is,” Taylor continued. “He remodeled the ventilation system in my darkroom, and he spent a lot of time helping me use Photoshop to prepare my photography book for publication.”
“He was always there to help,” Ken Franklin said. “A few days before he died, he was fixing circuit breakers at home.”
“He was an affable, patient and calm guy,” recalls Taylor. “He’s a nice guy.”
Roger Franklin is survived by his wife, Rebecca (Becky); his brother Ken and sister Bonnie; his two sons, Greg and Daniel; and three grandchildren.
A memorial service for Roger Franklin will be held on March 25, 2023 at 2 p.m. at the Near & Arnold Academy of Performing Arts, 508 West Ukiah, CA.