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—Lee Friedlander, 1996
Born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1934, Lee Friedlander fell in love with photography as a teenager. He arrived in New York City in 1955, and for the next fifteen years earned his living making photographs for magazines and record albums. Several of his portraits of musicians are presented here, but otherwise the exhibition is devoted to Friedlander's personal work from the late 1950s to the present.
In 1963, Friedlander summed up his subject as "the American social landscape"—the everyday backdrop of our lives. Walker Evans had shown that this ordinary material is full of messages from the people, and over the next four decades Friedlander would create a uniquely vivid and far-ranging image of the American scene.
What was new about Friedlander's work was its playfulness—his talent for turning familiar photographic errors into beguiling puns and puzzles. A pole often gets in the way; a plate-glass window confuses outside and inside; the photographer's own shadow or reflection behaves like a character with a mindlessness of its own. Once Friedlander had invented this parallel universe, he explored it with the eagerness of an addict or a mathematician.
His early work is witty but willful: insistent upon photography's power to transform concrete fact into pictorial fiction. Beginning In the early 1970s, the range of his subjects broadened considerably, and his craft matured to meet the challenge. Without ever losing its humor and verve, his style has grown ever more nimble, lyrical, and sensuous. Working in extended series, which he often makes into books, he has become one of the most prolific artists in photography's history.
To accommodate the breadth of Friedlander's work, the exhibition presents more than 500 photographs, along with examples of his books, special editions, and portfolios. To accommodate visitors, the pictures are grouped rigorously by date, subject, and style. The aim is to clarify the complex evolution of a rich career, while inviting deeper scrutiny as curiosity and pleasure may demand.
A simple declaration of fact, a bold invention of form, a sly act of artifice: a Friedlander photograph can be any of these—and all of them at once.
Chief Curator of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
This exhibition was organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and is traveling under the auspices of The International Council.