Lee Friedlander (born July 14, 1934) is an American photographer and artist. Friedlander studied photography at the Art Center College of Design located in Pasadena, California. In 1956, he moved to New York City where he photographed jazzmusicians for record covers. In 1960, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded Friedlander a grant to focus on his art and made subsequent grants in 1962 and 1977.
1960s and 70s: black and white social landscape
His early work was influenced by Eugène Atget, Robert Frank, and Walker Evans.
Working primarily with Leica 35mm cameras and black and white film, Friedlander evolved an influential and often imitated visual language of urban “social landscape,” with many of the photographs including fragments of store-front reflections, structures framed by fences, posters and street-signs.
He also experimented with use of his own shadow as an extra element in the image – giving many of them a more haunted eerie feel of an obvious onlooker to the scene.
In 1963, the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House mounted Friedlander’s first solo museum show. Friedlander was then a key figure in curator John Szarkowski‘s 1967 “New Documents” exhibition, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City along with Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus. In 1973, his work was honored in Rencontres d’Arles festival (France) with the screening “Soirée américaine : Judy Dater, Jack Welpott, Jerry Uelsmann, Lee Friedlander” présentée par Jean-Claude Lemagny.
1980s – present
Friedlander now works primarily with medium format cameras (e.g. Hasselblad Superwide). While suffering from arthritis and housebound, he focused on photographing his surroundings. His book, Stems, reflects his life during the time of his knee replacement surgery. He has said that his “limbs” reminded him of plant stems. These images display textures which were not a feature of his earlier work. In this sense, the images are similar to those of Josef Sudek who also photographed the confines of his home and studio.
Some of his most famous photographs appeared in the September 1985 Playboy, black and white nude photographs of Madonna from the late 1970s. A student at the time, she was paid only $25 for her 1979 set. In 2009, one of the images fetched $37,500 at a Christie’s Art House auction.
In 1990, the MacArthur Foundation awarded Friedlander a MacArthur Fellowship.
He was awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Special 150th Anniversary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 2003. In 2005, the Museum of Modern Art presented a major retrospective of Friedlander’s career, including nearly 400 photographs from the 1950s to the present. In the same year he received a Hasselblad International Award. The retrospective exhibition was presented again in 2008 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).
Lee Friedlander monograph America by Car (2010)
All the images in the series are taken from the driver’s point of view, incorporating into the viewfinder all of the familiar architecture of the cockpit (dashboard, rear-view mirror, views from side windows and wing mirrors and so on). This claustrophobia presents an American landscape at odds with the car and its driver; the windscreen forms a barrier between the individual and the landscape beyond. The car can only take you so far into the wilderness. The vast majority of the images in Friedlander’s book were made after 2001, and several images hint towards the international concerns of the past decade and beyond. The road – or, rather, whatever passing motorists will notice – is where political voices are articulated in loud, upper case letters: “WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS”, declares Little Millers diner in Alaska (p. 89). A campaign vehicle covered with pro-Obama stickers (p.104) is a prime example of using a vehicle as a legitimate extension of ideology and identity. [See Martin Parr’s From A to B (1994)].
Endless gas stations, a ubiquitous motif of the road trip narrative, inevitably contribute to the collection.
Concurrent to this retrospective, a more contemporary body of his work, America By Car, was displayed at the Fraenkel Gallery not far from SFMOMA. “America By Car” was on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in late 2010.