The noted American photographer, Lee Friedlander, is famously cantankerous. He has always been like it.
Text: Mike von Joel | Images: Lee Friedlander
Even as a young photographer, when offered the chance of a lifetime to picture the new cars of 1964 in a prestigious commission from Harper’s Bazaar magazine, he went his own way. So appalled were the editors – and afraid of alienating big advertisers like Pontiac and Chevrolet – that they shelved the images even though Friedlander got his fee.
Friedlander also caught flak for his 1970’s collection of female nudes, which were judged non-PC, lacking his usual light touch of humour, and ‘coldly erotic’. But scholars have pointed out the strong relationship to E.J. Bellocq’s celebrated studies of prostitutes, a Victorian photographer that a youthful Friedlander single-handedly rescued from oblivion. The most recognised in this field is the series he made of the then unknown songstress, Madonna, for a 1985 Playboy magazine, not least because of their uncompromising sexiness and the prices individual images now fetch at auction ($37,500 in 2009). But Friedlander is equally as implacable when turning the lens onto himself – a life-long habit.
Solo shots introduce us to a self-contained, humourless and introspective countenance – Lee rarely laughs at himself – but one which dissolves into genial amenability when combined with his beloved wife Maria, babies, friends or grandchildren. Friedlander takes pictures the way most people breathe, it’s constant and it’s natural. This is an intimate and emotional journey lasting well over 50 years and at the end, you are right there in the emergency room as Lee goes in for his (successful) major heart by-pass surgery. Along the way you can enjoy the usual menu of Friedlander motifs – the reflections, shadows, multi-faceted compositions – taken across the length and breadth of the USA. This visual diary is a marvellous look into the heart and mind – and life – of an American master of the camera art. Strangely moving.