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.

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.

Dream Street

I was browsing YouTube videos when I came across a piece on this book: Dream Street. W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project. It sounded interesting, and I didn’t have a book about Smith so I decided to get a copy.

The book sleeve describes it as follows:

In 1955, having just resigned from his high-profile but stormy career with Life Magazine, W. Eugene Smith was commissioned to spend three weeks in Pittsburgh and produce one hundred photographs for noted journalist and author Stefan Lorant’s book commemorating the city’s bicentennial. Smith ended up staying a year, compiling twenty thousand images for what would be the most ambitious photographic essay of his life. But only a fragment of this work was ever seen, despite Smith’s lifelong conviction that it was his greatest collection of photographs.

In 2001, Sam Stephenson published for the first time an assemblage of the core images from this project, selections that Smith asserted were the “synthesis of the whole,” presenting not only a portrayal of Pittsburgh but of postwar America. This new edition, updated with a foreword by the poet Ross Gay, offers a fresh vision of Smith’s masterpiece.

An Amazon editorial review describes the book as follows:

“[Dream Street] is Smith’s attempt to record the paradoxes of city life in America—the clutch of industry, the dogged persistence of both community and loneliness, the forces of love, hate, growth and decay. Not even the venerated master of photojournalists could quite pull this off, but Smith’s obsessiveness was harnessed to an enormous talent, and he wasn’t far from the mark when he wrote that [this work] would ‘create history.’” — Vicki Goldberg ― The New York Times, on the original edition

“Inspired by Joyce and Faulkner, Smith envisioned a symphonic, multilayered photo essay portraying the entire city; his failure to complete it haunted him for the rest of his life. Here are more than a hundred and fifty of his nourish and oddly poignant images: gleaming railyards at night; buildings wrapped in clouds of industrial smoke; the face of a steelworker, the Bessemer fires reflected in his safety goggles.” ― New Yorker, on the original edition

“These images are about the life that never gets into headlines. When a young teenage girl waits alone by a gleaming black car, she embodies innocence . . . and loss. When men of all ages from sixteen to sixty stand in silhouette along the lit-up counter of a takeout stand, you see a story of age, and ambition denied, a side of the 1950’s that rarely shows up on nostalgia channels. . . . Smith’s Pittsburgh photographs show how much we still resemble those citizens in the summer of 1955. And in his majestic inability to admit defeat we can see how dangerous that confidence could be to a man who saw its limits, and refused to give in.” — Mary Panzer ― Chicago Tribune, on the original edition

“Smith imagined a visual collage to rival Finnegan’s Wake in scope and intensity. His astonishing ambition was . . . his Faustian pact with the city . . . . There are no touching displays of picturesque individuality, just a city aesthetically dissected; an effort to ‘get to the guts of the matter and show the bastards as they are.’” ― TIME OUT London, on the original edition

“Smith’s presence haunts this book, even a quarter century after his death.” ― Washington City Paper, on the original edition

“Every picture tells a story—but put them all together and you might get Finnegans Wake. In the grand canyons of Pittsburgh, monolithic steel mills overshadow humble spires; hillsides scored with 500-step staircases plunge down to inky pitmouths. By day, the steelworkers hover like ghosts, silhouetted in the furnace flames. By night, the moon shines down Stygian rivers, as the shining railroad snakes away into blackest suburbs. More Dante than Joyce, this is a magnificent vision of light and dark.” ― Evening Standard, on the original edition

“Dream Street is a diffuse portrait of a community that still led the world in steel production while grappling with the challenge of making the air breathable. It’s also a time machine that takes those who weren’t alive or around during those years to the moment the soul of modern Pittsburgh was forged. Much like its creator, [Dream Street] is without sentiment. It is clear-eyed, despite the smoke of the coke works, and devoid of pretense. It is full of revelation and surprises. It inspires in a way that only great art—and great themes—are capable of inspiring.” ― Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on the original edition

“These dark-toned photographs are dense with meaning. And in [Dream Street] they are given the space to do it. Smith’s best pictures are complete, complicated worlds. The bigness, in every sense, of Smith’s pictures was also the bigness of Pittsburgh.” — Sarah Boxer ― The New York Times, on the original edition

“The range of this project lies not only in its subjects and themes, but also its pictorial and compositional variety, and its strategies and ploys. In other words, Smith used every device and trick he knew, and he knew a lot. The Pittsburgh project found Smith at the height of his abilities, which he brought to bear with vast ambition. Aiming to capture such a cross-section of society, neighborhoods, cityscapes, moods, and feelings, it remains unrivaled in this breadth and depth of its scope. Fifty years later, it jumps out at us, and the nostalgia suffusing [the book] is not just for the past depicted and our assumptions about it . . . but also for a time when a photographer could be so engaged with the real world, and yet so introspective about Americanness, and so secure in the belief that images would elevate the viewer. What Smith accomplished here is shaped not only by his personal ambition, but also by photographers’ ambitions for photography, and Americans’ ambitions for America.” ― Photo Review, on the original edition

“This epic portrait of Pittsburgh has become legendary in the history of photography. . . . Viewed together in this compelling, commanding publication, Smith’s photographs present energetic images of hope and despair, rebuilding and decay, poverty and affluence, and solitude and togetherness. . . . These images of mid-century, post-war Pittsburgh powerfully resonate with America today.” ― B&W: Black & White Magazine for Collectors of Fine Photography, on the original edition

“Dream Street stands as a final reminder of the power of Smith’s poetic vision.” ― The Cleveland Plain Dealer, on the original edition

“The Pittsburgh photographs were Smith’s after-LIFE magnum opus, and with them he produced a darkly urban vision, less out of a magazine than out of film noir . . . the paradoxes of a city churning toward progress and leaving vast segments of its population in squalor [are] metaphors for Smith’s state of mind. . . . What Smith was after was not a series of punchy vignettes but a sprawling epic in the manner of his favorite music: Beethoven’s late string quartets and the rhapsodic improvisations of John Coltrane.” ― Los Angeles Times, on the original edition

“Dream Street allows us to assess Smith’s greatest achievement; an extensive, complex, and utterly engaging photo-essay, each element of which has genuine bite. From the skyline to the assembly line, steel workers to city council members, and men on the picket line to children at play, Smith captures the ambitions and inequities of an American city at mid-century with extraordinary deftness and wit.” — Vincent Aletti ― The Village Voice, on the original edition

“For Smith, Dream Street was an artistic obsession. For Stephenson it appears to have been a labor of love. Perhaps much the same thing. Every reader will have his or her own favorite images in Dream Street.” — Michael Patrick Pearson ― NYJB
About the Author

W. Eugene Smith (1918–78) was an American photographer who worked for Life from 1939 to 1954 and thereafter was affiliated with the Magnum photo agency. Several posthumous overviews of Smith’s work have been published, including The Big Book, a retrospective of his work as he designed it, and a biography, Let Truth Be the Prejudice: W. Eugene Smith, His Life and Photographs, by Ben Maddow.

Sam Stephenson is a writer from North Carolina now based in College Station, TX. He is the author of a biography of Smith, Gene Smith’s Sink, as well as Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project and The Jazz Loft Project: The Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue. He is also the ghost writer of Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You, a memoir by Lucinda Williams. In 2019, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship for his work in progress about the band Jane’s Addiction.

Alan Trachtenberg was professor of American studies and English at Yale University.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about W. Eugene Smith. I love many of his pictures (e.g. The Minamata pictures are superb, if harrowing), but some of his photo essays (e.g. “Country Doctor“, 1948) leave me cold.

In reading more about Smith I was surprised to discover that one of his most famous photographs: “The Walk to Paradise Garden” (see below) was taken at his house in Croton-on-Hudson, about five miles from where I live.

In addition to the wonderful photographs the book also contains a foreword by Ross Gay; and interesting introduction by the editor, Sam Stephenson; and an essay: “‘Man-Breaking City’: W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh” by Alan Trachtenberg.

I acquired this second-hand in very good condition and it’s certainly worth what I paid for it.

My Photography in 2023

Before I start to write about my photography in 2023, I think it would be good for me to talk more broadly about my photographic journey.

My interest in photography started in 1974 when my wife bought me my first serious camera: a Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII film camera, which I used extensively in the 1980s and 90s, along with a Canon AE-1, which I acquired several years later. At some point in the early-mid 2000s I switched to digital photograph, but somehow my interest in photography had waned. I didn’t feel like going out to take pictures and only took pictures of family vacations, family events etc.

Things changed in 2010. I had lost my primary digital camera. I later found it again but by that time I had purchased another one: A Panasonic Lumix LX-3. I loved this camera (still do). Somehow it reignited my love of photography, which was just as well because retirement was looming in 2012, and I needed to find something to do with myself.

After that I split my time between photography and doing things (plays, shows, meals out, travel etc.) with my wife. It was a good time.

This went on until late 2020 when my wife of 43 years unexpectedly passed away after a thankfully very brief illness (not COVID). This was a very tough time for me and I had to find something to keep me occupied, or I would have gone mad. Of course, that thing was photography and between late 2020 and late 2021 I was constantly out taking pictures.

Late in 2022 I volunteered to work for our local Historical Society. This was something I had been meaning to do for some time, but never gotten around to. Since then, I’ve been there virtually every workday from 9:00am-4:00pm. This doesn’t mean that I have given up photography. Far from it. I still take photographs, make photobooks and the occasional prints; collect old cameras and photobooks etc., just at a slightly diminished pace than before.

So photographically speaking this is what I’ve been doing during 2023.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Despite my commitments to the Historical Society, I’ve managed to get out on quite a few photowalks:

In addition to the above I walk a lot around the area where I live and take many pictures. All told I kept about 1,500 photographs in 2023. I took a lot more.

As in previous years I’ve created two year-end posts featuring my favorite photographs, one on favorite black and whites; and the other on favorite color photographs.

BLOG

I maintain and will continue to maintain this blog, which I started in 2012. In 2023 I made 366 Blog Posts. The total number of posts since I started the blog is 4,359.

WEB SITE

However, I have also become a little tired of the blog format. I will keep the blog as a kind of illustrated diary of what I’m up to, but in 2023 I created a more traditional website for myself. You can find it at hgdphotography.org.

NEW DIRECTIONS

In previous years I’ve tried some more experimental (for me) approaches e.g. Macro Photography, Street Photography etc. In 2023 I tried my hand at infrared photography. I enjoyed it and will probably do more. I also want to learn more about video. I have cameras that can shoot video, but I didn’t have software to edit the results. I’ve now acquired some. I haven’t done much with it in 2023 but anticipate doing more in 2024.

I like to see my photographs in print but have little wall space to display them. So instead, I’ve focused on creating photobooks (more precisely ‘Zines’) of my work. In 2023 I created (or substantially modified an earlier version of) the following:

  • Opus 40. A remarkable large environmental sculpture in Saugerties, New York,
  • Golden Anniversary. Documenting my friends Marc and Rozanne Prisaments’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.
  • >A Tree:(revised): Around the Neighborhood No. 1. A series of photographs taken at the same time of single nearby tree.
  • A Pond: Around the Neighborhood No. 2. A series of Photographs taken around a nearby pond, which was once the outdoor pool of a famous resort hotel now gone.
  • Infrared. My attempts at infrared photography.
  • Quinceañera (revised). Documenting a friend’s granddaughter’s celebration.
  • Rivertowns No. 1: Along Albany Post Road, Tarrytown (revised). Part of an ongoing series of photographs of towns along the Hudson River.
  • Rivertowns No. 2: Dobbs Ferry. Part of an ongoing series of photographs of towns along the Hudson River.

PHOTOBOOKS

In 2023 I continued to add to my collection of Photobooks by and about renowned photographers with the following:

  • Dream Street. W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project by Sam Stephenson.
  • Looking at Images. A deeper look at selected photographs by Brooks Jensen.
  • Dido Moriyama by Bruna Dantas Lobato.
  • The Americans by Robert Frank.
  • Infrared Photography: Digital Techniques for Brilliant Images by Laurie Clein et al.
  • The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben.
  • Richard Misrach on Landscape and Meaning.
  • Mary Ellen Mark on the Portrait and the Moment.
  • Graciela Iturbide on Dreams, Symbols, and Imagination.
  • Peter Lindbergh on Fashion Photography.
  • Then: Photographs 1925-1995. By Alexander Liberman.
  • Larry Fink on Composition and Improvisation.
  • Todd Hido on Landscapes, Interiors and the Nude.
  • Time in New England by Paul Strand.
  • Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs by Ansel Adams.
  • The Portfolios of Ansel Adams. By Ansel Adams.
  • 1975 Masters of Contemporary Photography: Duane Michals. The Photographic Illusion: Using the Mind’s Eye to Created Photos for Collectors and Clients.
  • 1975 Masters of Contemporary Photography: Art Kane. The Persuasive Image: How a Portraitist and Storyteller Illuminates our Changing Culture.
  • 1975 Masters of Contemporary Photography: Elliott Erwitt. The Private Experience: Personal Insights of a Professional Photographer.
  • Let us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans.
  • Eudora Welty. Photographs by Eudora Welty and Reynolds Price.
  • Josef Koudelka: The Making of Exiles by Josef Koudelka.
  • Ansel Adams. An Autobiography. By Ansel Adams.
  • Atget. By John Szarkowski.
  • The Living Sea. By Hussain Aga Khan.

CAMERAS

I’ve added a few new (to me) cameras to my collection of old/inexpensive cameras. My current focus is on medium format and older digital cameras:
Of late I’ve focused on medium format, and older digital cameras and added a few new cameras to my collection of old/inexpensive cameras:

  • Canon PowerShot Pro 1.
  • Sony Cybershot DSC-R1.
  • Sony Cybershot DSC-F828
  • Pentax K10D
  • Yashica Mat-124G
  • Petri RF
  • Kodak Art Deco Six-20
  • That’s about it other than for me to with anyone reading this a Happy and Prosperous New Year.