Research notes – Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander (b 1934) is an American photographer.

The following comments are in regards to the retrospective book “Friedlander” published by MoMA (1). I first make some general observations on the layout and format of the book

  • Large portrait book
  • Chronologically arranged
  • No particular subject, but themes are arranged by chapters and some themes are repeated (eg Friedlander made a series “at work” in the 1980 followed by another one in the 1990s)
  • Images are not particularly large and there may be several of them over a two page spread. There is plenty of room around the pictures.
  • Pictures are mostly black and white
  • Different orientations are combined (ie you may have a two page spread with two portraits and one landscape-oriented image)

Friedlander’s work is very comprehensive and includes not only portraits and street photography work, but many pictures of objects and contexts that would normally not constitute the most attractive of subjects (eg landscapes taken from the inside of modern cars – link, or fences – link).

Many of his pictures include a combination of actual subjects and shadows / relections, to great effect in some cases. The photographer’s shadow or reflection is part of several of his pictures and in some cases we can distinguish facial features but in many others his image appears blocked. One particular picture in which his shadow plays an important part is that of a lady walking down the street with the photographer head and shoulders’ shadow cast on the lady’s back (link). It gives the impression as if the photographer is about to fall on top of her.
Some of Friedlander pictures have a clear sense of timing, as in the “decisive moment” (eg tourist with shadow taking photograph in Florence, with the copy of the David (also casting a shadow) on the background – link), but in general he took pictures of objects and how these objects were arranged in the frame is what really made the pictures stand and being interested. He also showed great reception to what was going on around him, and his series of pictures featuring TV sets showing giant eyes or interesting facial expressions (link), in the context of modest room settings shows his ability to be ready to capture the precise moment for maximum visual impact.

(1) Friedlander, L., Galassi, P., Benson, R., Friedl, L. and er, P.G. (2005) Friedlander: [publ. In conjunction with the exhibition “Friedlander”, at the museum of modern art, New York, June 5 – august 29, 2005]. 2nd edn. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, New York.


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