“Just what is Friedlander’s work about? To what does it refer, either concretely, metaphorically, formally, allegorically, or representatively? In what sense are his photographs documents – either of the world or of his true perceptions? Is he confronting us directly with our perception of reality –or merely an abstract, ultimately barren non-reality? Is his work an allegory for his view of civilization and humanity – or is it only about the medium in its narrowest sense? Is it a series of facile formal maneuvers? Or even a kind of existential jerking off?” These questions appear in Gerry Badger’s essay assessing Lee Friedlander’s style in photography. Friedlander works bring the whole new conversation and perspective in photography. At the first glance, Friedlander works seem mundane and sometimes seem arbitrary. But it is intriguing enough for the viewer to look deeper through the picture to find the meaning if not a deeper meaning from the photograph. Lee Friedlander’s open-ended nature on his photograph provides the viewer an endless examination.
Lee Friedlander is an American photographer with a fascination on the street photography. He works primarily with his Leica 35 mm camera and black and white film. Friedlander photography style is considered as “social landscape photography” because of his prominent street photos focusing on the look of the modern life. Friedlander focused to photograph his surrounding with unique perspective. He doesn’t stick to any convention in taking photograph. He wonders around and pursued different types of photography. Friedlander begins his career from photographing jazz musician for the Atlantic Recording. Thus he proceed his interest in photography by self-taught himself with direction through Evans and Adget works.
Friedlander pioneers the new visualization perspective of street photography. Throughout his career, he captures images from his surrounding with unique approaches. Rather than documenting straight and clear-cut photograph, he intentionally juxtaposes layers of weird perspective and creates confusion to deliver the story. Friedlander uses the strategy to show something that the viewer can’t immediately comprehend to captivate their interest in the photograph. Visual complexity, unfamiliar perspective and abstraction become the major role in Friedlander’s style of street photography. Friedlander creates his own photography style with an informal and seemingly unintentional approach to his photographs. In her essay, Martha Rosler states that “[Friedlander Photography style] had aimed to signify a transcendental statement through subtractions or rationalized arrangements of elements within a photographic space”. Ambiguity seems essential in Friedlander’s photography style. Thus this element provides visual attraction to its viewer. Friedlander’s photograph amazingly invites the viewer to jump inside the picture without any overly admirable details or any obvious focal context.
|Friedlander. Maria Friedlander. Southwestern United States. 1969|
Ambiguity, informal, and unintentional suggestion appears to become the integral elements in assessing Friedlander’s work. Friedlander’s work considered the pioneer of postmodern photography. Postmodern photography work is characterized by atypical compositions of subjects that are unconventional or sometimes absent. Thus, Friedlander’s work also relates to formalism, which is working by either following or breaking some rules and aesthetic conventions within the cultural milieu and/or by embracing certain philosophical concept. But at the first glance, Friedlander’s work seems like an accidental picture taken by an amateur photographer. Therefore through deeper inspection into the photographs, it might appear that his ‘unintentional’ photographs implied referential statement and narrative of a bigger concern.
|Friedlander. Memphis, Tennessee. 2003|
The Picture was taken in Memphis, Tennessee in 2003 can be portrays as a simple perspectile humor. It shows the triangular sign touching another triangular object in the background as seems like those two objects are in the same plane. It shows what capacity a camera can create manipulation of the documented picture. The photograph proposes ambiguity and the sense of unintentional behavior. Thus it makes the viewer to array opinion of the picture from a mere perspectile humor to a really deep message with complex metaphorical symbols.
Lee Friedlander’s photograph in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1972 seems like an everyday street intersection that could be taken by anyone. However, this picture of a black dog sitting in a common intersection is carefully arranged to formally imply to the social-political aspect at that time. This photograph contains many symbolisms to array a message or an implied narrative. For example, the black dog and the relatively bright surrounding suggest the contrast between the living and the non-living objects. The black dog dissected by a vertical lamp post can symbolically be interpreted as a concern on the civil right movement of the African American society that was ‘cut in half’ in the American society. Although a significant movement has been done, the African Americans were still in the ‘intersection’ of being accepted and treated equally. The buildings in the background shows bright Victorian house style complete with the pillar on the entrance shows reference to the ‘white’ who tend to own the slave. Thus it separated from the ‘black dog’ by the road intersection.
|Friedlander. Chicago, Illinois. 2003|
Another photograph by Lee Friedlander in Chicago, IL in 2003 juxtaposes everyday objects on the street. He activates the vertical element bring focus and configuration to the composition. He creates order in a chaotic manner. This highly composed picture creates complexity and insert loads of context to intricate its viewer to observe. Thus the picture allures us to think about the life in the big city. The traffic sign and the traffic light suggest that life in the big city is harsh, full of complexity, and rules. There is ‘no turn’ but cannot proceed either. Taxi cab and Marina City advertises the ‘luxury’ of living in a big city. The taxi cab is supposed to provide a luxurious transportation service and the Marina City with its initial idea from Bertrand Goldberg as the city inside a city. The city provides endless opportunities but ironically it also eats you alive. Being trapped in the big city lifestyle seems that reality doesn’t as flashy as it once promises.
This picture of a mannequin and the reflection on a storefront window is not another random weirdly composed photograph. The photo itself is intriguing with a complex composition with reflection and the use of transparency object. But beside the fascinating composition, this series of photograph by Lee Friedlander implies to a bigger contextual message in the urban society. The 103 photographs of mannequin published in by San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery suggest a criticism of the social habit of consumerism. The headless mannequin inside the storefront symbolizes the people who are trapped by the consumerism habit. Also it shows a series of head silhouette picture that suggest the lack of identity as people tend to strip their own to keep on track to the latest trend. The superimposed storefront window reflection also implies to the generic manner in urban society. The reflection and the mannequin connect the lack of identity of the people and the tough nature of the city lifestyle.
In some extend, all these view and interpretation is not merely what Friedlander necessarily intended the viewer to look at his photographs. However, the ambiguous and open-ended nature of his photograph imposes endless examination. Friedlander photographs assaults the notion of ambiguity. It creates a whole new experience and interpretation of the moment in the picture while at the same time alluding into it. The photographs seem literal and transparent in term of symbolism after some extend of careful investigation. Friedlander style in his photography work features and shifts the meaning behind the picture to a bigger frame.
Martha Rosler states in her essay that Friedlander’s photograph possesses a wide range of meaning other that the technicality and playfulness of the form: “The locus of desired readings is, then, formalist, modernism, where the art endeavor explores the specific boundaries and capabilities of the medium, and the iconography, while privately meaningful, is wholly subordinate (…) the level of import of Friedlander’s work is open to question and can be read anywhere from photo funnies to metaphysical dismay.”
· Badger, Gerry. (1991) ‘Out of Cool–Lee Friedlander at the Victoria and Albert Museum, (available at http://www.thisispipe.com/2013/04/lee-friedlander-post-modern-photography.html) (accessed December 2013)
· De Lima, Rafael. (2013) ‘Formalism in Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky’, available at http://dzima.net/blog/formalism-in-jeff-wall-and-andreas-gursky/) (accessed December 2013)
· P. Galassi, R. Benson, L. Friedlander. (2009) Friedlander. New York. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
· Pipe. (2013) ‘Lee Friedlander & Post Modern Photography: Deconstructing Albuquerque, New Mexico (1972)’. (available at http://www.thisispipe.com/2013/04/lee-friedlander-post-modern-photography.html) (accessed December 2013)
· Rosler, Martha. (2004) Decoy and Disruptions Selected Writings, 1975-2001. Cambridge, Massachusetts. The MIT Press