on 17 November 2011
We can all identify with photographs, yet our knowledge and understanding of photography's qualities often only go as far as appreciating the holiday snapshot, or the birthday boy blowing out candles, or the family pet doing something silly. Yet whether consciously or sub-consiously, we balk at the awkwardness of having someone's face cropped out of the photo by careless framing or we notice subtleties too minute or fleeting to notice in real time, or yet we might notice the possibility of an interpretation not originally intended by the maker of the photograph. These "inconsistencies" or "flaws" of photography all contribute to the uniqueness of the photographic language, and proves not only that a photograph is as capable of altering the reality of whatever is depicted as much as it can make us believe the truth of its contents.
And this, I think, is the territory mined by many great photographers like Garry Winogrand and Harry Callahan, and chief amongst such explorers of the photograph's altered realities, is Lee Friedlander. Friedlander is to photography what Miles Davis is to jazz, a visionary and innovator, amazingly fluent in their chosen languages of expression. Finding validation (and being heavily influenced by) the work of Eugene Atget and Walker Evans before him, Friedlander's subject is the everyday vernacular, yet through his vision we see the banalities of the everyday as we've never seen them before. We know they're there - the distortions in reflections off shop windows, the wild juxtapositions possible in your typical urban environment, but Friedlander presents them to us as products of a finely-tuned photographic vision and a state of heightened awareness. Or as Peter Galassi, MoMA's chief curator of photography describes it in his introductory essay, Friedlander's pictures give you the impression that "the physical world had been broken into fragments and reconstituted under pressure at three times its original density."
So if you are interested in pushing the boundaries of your own photographic vision, I suggest that you study the work of Friedlander post-haste. As prolific a book-maker as he is a photographer, the breadth of his work is incredible, and this book, being a catalogue accompanying a retrospective, is a great starting point to discovering the work of this photographer's photographer.
on 6 January 2014
....they would tell a better story than this review.
I list just four photographers as mentors. Friedlander is one I would hope I could aspire to.
Words are not enough to describe this vast collection of photos.
If you don't know much of Friedlander's work, this tome is sufficient for your education.
If you know some of Friedlander's work but you don't have anything in your library, then this book
will surely suffice.