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Indianapolis, 1956

Who are the couple in the famous Robert Frank photo?

Indianapolis is the title of this photograph. Swiss immigrant Robert Frank took the photo in 1956 and it was featured in his seminal book 'The Americans'. And it was only when I was thumbing through my copy this week that I started to wonder who the couple in the image are – or were.

I posted a shot of this page in the book on Instagram and someone with the moniker michael_fromla commented to say that the Panhead-riding couple's names are Matthew and Telester Smiley and that he thought that Telester had died last year. After a bit of research I discovered they were known to their friends as Mack and T (and that in fact, Telester died in January 2015 at the age of 82).

An interview with Telester in the Indianapolis Star from June 26, 2008, says that she didn't realise until the newspaper reprinted the Frank photo and her friends alerted her to it that she'd been so famous; unfortunately the rest of the article isn't available to read online. It does note that Mack died at the age of 69 in 1996; he'd been married to Telester for 47 years.

I find it fascinating trying to find out the background stories to iconic motorcycle photographs; perhaps I'll make it a feature in GKM. Here's a photo from the Indy Star article by Frank Espich of Telester holding a photo of her husband with his beloved Harley; and that original Robert Frank image? If you can find a print signed by the photographer, it'll set you back a cool $50 grand.

If you want to read an interesting article on why the Frank photo is so significant, this is good.

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