Lee Friedlander

Once upon a time I didn’t care for street photography. But I’m an avid consumer of photobooks and after acquiring books by/about such luminaries as Joel Meyerowitz, Gary Winogrand, Robert Frank etc. I began to understand it better and even tried to do street photography of my own. One of the photographers I came across was Lee Friedlander. I saw some of his photographs online and liked them a lot and so decided to find out more. As is the norm for me I decided to get my hands on a book. This turned out to be harder than I thought. He’s a prolific creator of photobooks. See below for a partial list:

  • The American Monument. New York: Eakins Press Foundation, 1976. ISBN 0-87130-043-5.
  • Lee Friedlander Photographs. New City, NY: Self-published / Haywire Press, 1978.
  • Factory Valleys: Ohio & Pennsylvania. New York: Callaway Editions, 1982. ISBN 0-935112-04-9.
  • Lee Friedlander Portraits. Boston: Little, Brown, 1985. ISBN 0-8212-1602-3.
  • Like a One-Eyed Cat: Photographs by Lee Friedlander, 1956–1987. New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the Seattle Art Museum, 1989. ISBN 0-8109-1274-0.
  • Nudes. New York: Pantheon, 1991. ISBN 0-679-40484-8.
  • The Jazz People of New Orleans. New York: Pantheon, 1992. ISBN 0-679-41638-2.
  • Maria. Washington: Smithsonian, 1992. ISBN 1-56098-207-1.
  • London: Jonathan Cape, 1993. ISBN 9780224032957.
  • Bellocq: Photographs from Storyville, the Red-Light District of New Orleans. New York: Random House, 1996. ISBN 0-679-44975-2.
  • The Desert Seen. New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 1996. ISBN 1-881616-75-4.
  • American Musicians: Photographs by Lee Friedlander. New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 1998. ISBN 1-56466-056-7. By Friedlander, Steve Lacy, and Ruth Brown.
  • Lee Friedlander. San Francisco: Fraenkel Gallery, 2000. ISBN 1-881337-09-X.
  • Stems. New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2003. ISBN 1-891024-75-2.
  • Lee Friedlander: Sticks and Stones: Architectural America. San Francisco: Fraenkel Gallery, 2004. ISBN 1-891024-97-3. By Friedlander and James Enyeart.
  • Cherry Blossom Time in Japan: The Complete Works. San Francisco: Fraenkel Gallery, 2006. ISBN 1-881337-20-0.
  • Lee Friedlander: New Mexico. Santa Fe, NM: Radius Books, 2008. ISBN 978-1-934435-11-3. By Friedlander, Andrew Smith, and Emily Ballew Neff.
  • Photographs: Frederick Law Olmsted Landscapes. New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2008. ISBN 978-1933045733.
  • America by Car. San Francisco: Fraenkel Gallery, 2010. ISBN 978-1-935202-08-0.
  • Portraits: The Human Clay: Volume 1. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2015. ISBN 978-0-300-21520-5.
  • Children: The Human Clay: Volume 2. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2015. ISBN 978-0-300-21519-9.
  • Street: The Human Clay: Volume 3. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 2016. ISBN 978-0-300-22177-0.
  • Lee Friedlander: Western Landscapes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Art Gallery, 2016. ISBN 978-0-300-22301-9.

All you’ll have seen his books cover a multitude of topics. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what I wanted. I was looking for a fairly recent retrospective covering his work in general. At that time the type of book I was looking for was either out of print, extremely expensive or both. This situation now seems to have changed so when I spotted this book, I immediately acquired it.

It’s quite a large (10″ x 12″) book, which explains why the right side is cut off in the picture. It just wouldn’t fit on my admittedly small scanner.

The book is in four parts. The first is an essay by Carlos Gollonet entitled “The World According to Lee Friedlander”. I found this most informative and refreshingly free of the “critic speak” you often find in such pieces. Instead, it was rather easy to read. I found the second part, “My life with Lee. An Interview with Maria Friedlander” to be absolutely fascinating. Since Mr. Friedlander is known for his reluctance to give interviews, this might be the close as we’re going to get. The third part: “How he sees” by Nichols Nixon is short and left very little impression on me. I guess it’s a personal reflection by someone who knows Friedlander well. The third part, which takes up most of the book is called “Catalog” and contains over 300 photographs, mostly black and white, but a few in color. The book concludes with a chronology of the artist’s life by his grandson Giancarlo T. Roma.

I really enjoyed it.

A Question of Color

I’m a huge fan of Joel Meyerowitz and as soon as I saw reviews of this book: “Joel Meyerowitz: a question of color” I ordered a copy. I have to say that I was quite disappointed.

Before I explain why I’d like to explain what it’s about. Essentially, it’s in two parts: First, a text part where Meyerowitz provides an overview of how he started in photography and how his photography has evolved since then; and second, a series of photographs. The photographs are in pairs: two shots of the same subject, one in black and white and one in color. In this part Meyerowitz provides examples of the differences between black and white, and color photography. More of the book is taken up by the photographs than with the text. Since it’s mostly photographs it doesn’t take long to read it. When I read it today it took me about an hour and a half. Of course, if you spend a lot of time studying the photographs it might take longer.

Now, why was I disappointed with the book. First, Meyerowitz merely presents the pairs of photographs without any comments. I would have thought that he would have given his opinion on, in any given pair, whether the black and white works best (and why) and vice versa. I didn’t find this long collection of pairs of photographs to be particularly interesting. Maybe the point of it was to show that color photography and black and white photography are different, but both have their merits. If so I (and I suspect many other photographers) don’t need to be told. We already know.

Second, and most importantly I already have a truly excellent book by Meyerowitz called “Joel Meyerowitz: Where I Find Myself: A Lifetime Retrospective”. This is a much larger, and more expensive book, which unfortunately covers pretty much all the ground covered by “A Question of Color” and much, much more. So, I was disappointed that I spent my money on a book that really didn’t tell me anything the I hadn’t already discovered in “Where I Find Myself” (for my thoughts on that book see here.)

This is not a bad book. In fact, for many it might be a very good book, but for me it was just a waste of money. I can heartily recommend “Where I Find Myself” though.

Midcentury Memories

In first paragraph of his introductory essay, “Collective Memories in Kodachrome”, Richard B. Woodward writes:

A young woman is seated on the edge of a blue Adirondack chair. A thin and expensive yellow sweater draped over her shoulders and bare arms, she wears a high-necked black dress and holds a cigarette in her right hand. Her icy hauteur might have caught the eye of Alfred Hitchcock, who could have cast her as the threatened heroine’s younger sister. The Anonymous Project is a collection of similar scenes – the sweet, awkward, random moments that no one recalls now unless someone had recorded them in a photograph.

And that’s pretty much what this book is. Apart from this essay at the beginning, and a brief interview with the founder and creative director of The Anonymous Project at the end, that’s pretty much it: about 140 or so pages of anonymous photographs (a small sample below) derived from Kodachrome Slides.

I was never much into slide photography. As Woodward writes:

The downside was that slides were much easier to make than to look at. Once they came back from development by Kodak or Agfa or Ilford or Fuji, it was not clear what to do with them. You couldn’t paste transparencies in a photo album or put them on your desk at the office…But the only chance most had to review how well (or poorly) they had photographed something in Kodachrome or Ektachrome was by setting up a slide projector…In the 1950s and ’60s, as projectors entered middle-class American and European homes and school classrooms, the slide show became a group activity, and more often than not a coerced one under the dictatorship of a parent or teacher.

The person in the family hierarchy who organized the trays or held the remote control – the role of photographer in chief was usually the father’s – would set the order and the pace, which was often agonizingly slow with long pauses for commentary. The slides themselves had no afterlife beyond their one-night-only appearance in a living room or den. Most disappeared back into their cardboard boxes and never saw daylight again. Shulman estimates that many of the images in his book have not been viewed by anyone, even by those to whom they once belonged, for 60 years.

I agree with most of what he writes, but not that they were “easier to make than to look at”. On my very rare forays into slide photography, I found it extremely difficult to get them right.

However, as I look at the photographs in the book, I can’t help but feel that maybe I should have tried harder. The pictures really are very bright and colorful.

I have a feeling that the quality of the photographs in the book are somewhat better than your average snapshot. Could this be because the process of making and showing slides was so cumbersome that only more dedicated photographers did it?

Good book though, I enjoy picking it up and browsing through it from time to time…and wondering who the people in the slides were, and what happened to them.

Deep South

About a week ago I felt like going somewhere pleasant where I could sit and read. So, I decided to go walk down to a restaurant (3 Westerly) on the Hudson River – about a 45-minute walk from where I live. On the way I stopped at a great local bookstore: Hudson Valley Books for Humanity where I picked up a copy of “Deep South” by Sally Mann.

Publishers weekly described the book as follows:

Mann rose to prominence with Immediate Family, a collection of photographs of her children that some saw as emotionally direct and others found disturbingly erotic. Regardless, these photographs, and her subsequent work, demonstrate that Mann has a preternatural eye for light and composition. In this book, Mann, inspired by “”a cache of glass negatives…of familiar local places,”” set off with her camera through the South, using eighteenth century photographic techniques to capture the “”radical light of the American South,”” and the results are fascinating. In Georgia, a column of leaves dissipates into a luminous mist; in Virginia, a scumbled field with an empty cart in the distance suggests a test shot by Matthew Brady. Many of these photographs are startling in their intimations of violence: in the section called “”Deep South,”” Mann depicts the thick shaft of a venerable tree with a wound-like, horizontal slash near the trunk. Mann has also included the inevitable mistakes involved with such a tricky process: indiscernible unhappy accidents and washed-out near-abstractions. This is brave but puzzling. In one of her short essays, Mann writes that the Southern dusk makes “”the landscape soft and vague, as if inadequately summoned by some shiftless deity, casually neglectful of the details.”” A god may enjoy such prerogatives, but shouldn’t artists be more mindful? Most of the 65 images here are hauntingly beautiful and offer a stunning tour of a very off-the-beaten-path part of the country.

I’m a big fan of Sally Mann’s work and already own a couple of her books: her memoir: Hold Still: A Memoir With Photographs; and A Thousand Crossings.

For a good overview see: Sally Mann Photos – Intimate, Visceral.

I love this book. It’s large so the quality of the photographs is good. But it’s not so large that I can’t conveniently pick it up and read it. It’s a nice mix of text and photographs. I often come across photobooks with almost no text at all. I can understand why, but personally I like to have some text. I also come across photobooks that have acres and acres of text: multiple long articles, which I don’t usually mind to much unless they’re full of “criticspeak”.

In my opinion this book is a perfect blend of text and photographs. And the text is not coming from academics pontificating about here work. It’s Ms. Mann telling a story, which complements her photographs. In addition to being a great photographer, Ms. Mann is an excellent writer (she has an MA in creative writing and her mother ran a bookstore). I find the photographs to be atmospheric, and more than a little disturbing. I’m sure that those who insist on ultimate sharpness will not like this book. But I do.

This book is not easy to find and if you can find one it’s usually somewhat expensive. I was very pleased to find it, at a reasonable price in my local bookstore.

André Kertész. Of Paris and New York

I volunteer for our Local Historical Society: The Briarcliff Manor-Scarborough Historical Society (BMSHS). The Society is housed in the Eileen O’Connor Weber Historical Center, which is on the lower level of Briarcliff Manor Library building.

The other day I had a few minutes to spare, and I fancied a change of scene, so I went into the library and browsed around the shelves and came across this volume: André Kertész of Paris and New York. It was designed to accompany a 1985 exhibition of his work in The Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. There’s a review of the book here. I started to read it and after a while I decided that I wanted to get a copy for myself. I managed to find a very good, and quite inexpensive copy on Ebay.

Many photobooks have lots of pictures, but only limited text. I guess the logic is that the pictures should be able to stand by themselves and shouldn’t need the text to explain them. I’m not convinced that this is necessarily true even for captions and/or descriptions of individual photographs. But what I like is what this book has: substantial essays on various topics, in this case: “André Kertész: The Years in Paris” by Sandra S. Phillips; “Kertész and his Contemporaries in in Germany and France” by David Travis; “André Kertész: The Making of an American Photographer” by Weston J. Naef. With the Foreword, Acknowledgements and Preface these take up 95 pages! They are followed by 131 pages of plates, sections of the exhibitions catalogue, a bibliography and index.

There’s a lot of good stuff here and so far, I’ve only scratched the surface. I can’t wait to read the rest.