John Szarkowski was the director of photography at the New York Museum of Modern Art from 1962 until 1991. Szarkowski curated the New Documents exhibit in 1967 that showcased work by Lee Friedlander alongside Diane Arbus and Gary Winogrand. The exhibition was significant in that the photographers shown incorporated a fresh personal expressiveness in their work that had been omitted in photography up until that point in the 20th Century. This could be seen as Friedlander’s entry nod from the ivory tower, but I get Szarkowski’s perspective and regardless of his declaration of the brilliance, vision and talent in this troika of photographers, believe that they were/are incredibly significant to the art form and it was not simply a Szarkowski-determining prophesy.
I began stalking Lee Friedlander a couple of years ago as an MFA in Photography student. I most comprehensively attempted to articulate my academic appreciation for Lee and his photographic work in this term paper for one of my favorite classes – a class in Documentary Photography: Lee Friedlander - Documentary Photographer?
I do appreciate academics and think that they can enhance our appreciation for all things appreciable (even those which at first glance may seem unappreciable). But I’m sort of wanting to be less academic and more passionate and inspired and want for the relationship between Lee and I to follow suit.
This has really been a hot summer in Dallas. And the point of that is that I’m taking a break from being on the road and returned to my home in Dallas for a couple of weeks to see a few friends, make sure my home is in one piece, take in some of Dallas’s hot temperate charms, etc. One of the benefits of being in my home, besides the A/C is that I have access to my photography books. Last evening, in an effort to take my relationship with Lee a step further, I went to bed with my copy of America by Car (Lee’s book). And in a fresh way was reminded about how “fun” photography can be. You were great Lee.
The photograph at the top of this entry is a case in point. The physical car breaks the picture plane into 4 segments: The car’s interior, the view through the windshield, the view through the driver’s window, and the reflection in the sideview mirror. Two points of fun in Friedlander’s composition here, well three: 1. The arc of the fish tangential to and opposing the arc created by the steering wheel. Breaking rules of “good photography” is sexy in my humble opinion. 2. This juxtaposition increases the plasticity in the picture plane because these 2 elements are simultaneously being seen in different and the same depths in the picture plane causing the eye to bounce, or refocus, on the different depths in the picture plane. And 3. The inclusion of the mirror’s reflection adds a whole warp to the dimensionality of the photograph throwing the viewer in the opposite direction of the rest of the scene. Or somewhere. I find in each of the photographs included in America by Car loaded with these types of fun visual treasures. Indeed in much of Friedlander’s work. Photography should be fun.