Cameron, Julia M.
Coburn, Alvin L.
Talbot,William H. Fox
Documentary, Landscape, Photojournalism, Portraiture
Biography: In 1967 John Szarkowski, the photography curator
at New York's Museum of Modern Art, organized the exhibition New
Documents. It would be the first major public showcase for a wide
selection of work by Diane Arbus, Gary Winogrand and Lee Friedlander,
three photographers whose work, according to Szarkowski, showed
new developments in documentary photography: disconcerting portraits
from Arbus, apparently snapshot like photos from Winogrand, and
complex, layered street images from Friedlander. Of these photographers,
Friedlander has since proven to have the longest and most consistent
career. Like Winogrand, the young Friedlander had been deeply
influenced by Robert Frank's book The Americans, which had come
out in 1958. Until then he had been making portraits of jazz and
blues musicians in New Orleans.
In 1963 he got his first solo exhibition in the George Eastman
House in Rochester, and shortly thereafter produced a photo essay
for Harper's Bazaar. One of the photographs from this visual narrative,
that of the baby on the TV screen at the foot of a motel bed,
became famous. Like Frank's photographs, Friedlander's images
were interpreted as a merciless mirror of American society. Friedlander's
work is, however, much less emotional than Frank's. His photographs
from the 1960's, in particular, seem to be about the movement
of formal elements with respect to one another. The human figures
in his street images seem misplaced, surrounded by visual pollution
such as signs and advertisements, and disappear under the weight
of reflections or under the shadow of the photographer who is
taking the picture from outside of the frame.
Friedlander always worked in series: street images, flowers,
trees, gardens, landscapes, nudes, the industrial and post- industrial
environment, portraits, self-portraits. The self-portrait reproduced
here is one of the most confrontational: the photographer sits
slumped in the easy chair in a motel room, dressed only in his
underwear. Despite the clearly visible sex organ, this is definitely
not an example of masculinity, but a merciless self-assessment.
Among the important series produced by Friedlander in the late
1970's and early 1980's were a reportage about forgotten memorials
to events in American history, portraits of workers in North American
industrial areas threatened with unemployment, and portraits of
computer operators. In 1991 Szarkowski once more devoted an exhibition
to Friedlander, this time of his nudes, work that feminist critics
rightly attacked for his reactionary vision. Ultimately Friedlander's
significance lies much more in his early photographs, in the way
in which, with his camera, he gave shape to the banality of daily
life, and recorded the complexity of the American social landscape
from a strong appreciation of the importance of formal values.
Article / Bio Source: Hripsime Visser, in: 100xPhoto,
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 1996.
More on Lee Friedlander:
Several Links to Online Galleries of Lee Friedlander
Profotos > Education
> Reference Desk > Photography Masters
> Lee Friedlander