Menu Search
About Us
The Art Story Homepage Artists Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander

American Photographer

Lee Friedlander Photo

Born: July 14, 1934 - Aberdeen, Washington

"I always wanted to be a photographer. I was fascinated by the materials. But I never dreamed that I would be having this much fun."

Summary of Lee Friedlander

If the age-old adage that "reputations are made on the company one keeps" holds true, then MoMA's New Documents exhibition of 1967, where he took his place alongside the likes of Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand, would mark Friedlander's breakthrough as an artist. Though Friedlander's participation in New Documents led to only one sale, it brought him to the attention of the Pop artist Jim Dine and the two men worked subsequently on a book collaboration (photographs and etchings) called Work from the Same House (1969). That book was well received, enabling Friedlander to consolidate his position as one of the new photographic provocateurs a year later through his first solo book, Self Portrait. The then novel idea that the photographer could be acknowledged as part of his (or her) photographic environment was to become a perennial feature of Friedlander's work.

The spontaneous street, or 'snapshot', aesthetic had been a staple of the photographic arts since Robert Frank's late-1950s Americans project. But, as with Arbus and Winograd, the term 'documentary' seems woefully insufficient when trying to explain 'mundane' subject-matter this rich in connotation. Friedlander's style - featuring street signs, incredulous shadows and self-reflections, public monuments, nudes, and, later, even landscapes - would bring a disquieting quality to what was ostensibly familiar. Even given the sheer range of his subject matter, Friedlander was able to present an impressive portfolio representing the unique and intricate details of contemporary American life.

Key Ideas

Portraiture and self-portraiture is an important feature of Friedlander's portfolio. This facet of his canon can be traced back to an early professional background where he produced portraits for some 200 music album sleeves. Though for aesthetic reasons he has since chosen to work in monochrome, his early commercial portraits - featuring the likes, no less, of Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, and John Coltrane - often display a strong affinity with color.
In 1963 Friedlander published The Little Screens series photo essay in Harper's Bazaar which consisted of six photographs, each named after the city in which they were taken, and showing everyday domestic spaces illuminated by the portable television sets that had become a staple of American homes and motel rooms. Viewed as a commentary on contemporary American mores, Little Screens is an early indicator of Friedlander's career-long desire to explore through his lens the more prosaic aspects of modern American living.
There is something of an automatic and inexhaustible ("If I had a chance, I'd be out shooting all the time") quality to Friedlander's work: "I'm not a premeditative photographer', he stated, I "see a picture and I make it". His black and white photographs, shot, as was the preference of the new documentarians, with his 35mm Leica, would tend therefore to promote fragmented and uncoordinated compositions over geometric and spatial alignment. Indeed, the bent of documentary photography heretofore was to offer the spectator a window on reality whereas the meanings carried in Friedlander's images remain deliberately obscure and equivocal.
As with his esteemed peers Arbus and Winograd, Friedlander's new documentary approach allowed for the point of view of the photographer to impose his or her personality on the subject matter. A unifying characteristic of Friedlander's work was a particular liking for reflections, usually his own, in windows, glass doors and mirrors. He is also recognized for his fascination with repetition - shooting in the same cities and on the same streets over and again - while his attraction to signs, billboards and other hoardings saw critical readings of his work aligned with the postmodern idea of a hyperreal (the idea that all truth is masked by signs) America.
Lee Friedlander Photo

Lee Norman Friedlander was born in 1934 into the small (population: 13,000) fishing and logging community of Aberdeen, Washington. His father, Fritz (Friedlander) was a Polish-Jewish émigré who had arrived in America just before the outbreak of WWI. Sadly, Friedlander's mother, Kaari Nurmi, herself an émigré of Finnish descent, died of cancer when her son was just seven years old. Following her death, his father, felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of becoming a single parent, sent Lee to an area of rural Washington where he was raised by a farming family. Father and son were not estranged however and the pair would spend free-time and holidays together. It was Fritz in fact who helped nurture his son's interest in photography and by the age of just 14 he was earning pocket-money as a photographer. Indeed, one of his first commissions was to photograph the pet dog of one of Aberdeen's most well-known residents for her personalized Christmas card. In 1950, he attained his driver's license which allowed him the freedom to explore the music clubs in Washington State and his other love of Jazz, Blues, and R & B music was sealed.

Most Important Art

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterSave on PinterestSend In Facebook MessengerSend In WhatsApp
Support Us