«If I had a chance, I’d be out shooting all the time. You don’t have to go looking for pictures. You go out and the pictures are staring at you». Lee Friedlander‘s photographs are cursed with a secret. They always seem to know something we do not. The formal beauty of his photographs is rooted in the harsh solitude they exude.
Friedlander was born in Aberdeen (Washington). He studied at the Los Angeles Art Center School where he met someone who would become a key figure for him when he was first starting out: Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records, for whom he began carrying out his first commissions taking photographs for album covers as well as for RCA and Columbia Records. John Coltrane, Miles Davies, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus all posed for his camera. In 1956 he moved to New York to work on the magazines Seventeen and Squire. Through the art director Marvin Israel he met Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand and Walker Evans. Evans would write a review of his exhibition The Little Screens, in Harper’s Bazaar in February 1963. Ten years later Evans would write the text for his first portfolio, Lee Friedlander: 15 photographs (1973).
The MoMA exhibition entitled New Documents would prove to be a crucial moment in his career although Nathan Lyoms, the curator at George Eastman House had already included his work in Towards a Social Landscape(1966) where Winogrand also exhibited. That exhibition is today considered to have been the inspiration for the new documentalism represented by Winogrand and Friedlander, together with Diane Arbus. Once they had received John Szarkowski‘s vital recognition with New Documents in the MoMA, they would go on to redefine photography as an intimate way of learning about reality.
His project and bookThe American Monument (1976) has become a masterpiece in the analysis of the soul of the United States: it seeks to reflect how so many monuments are lost or camouflaged by the changing landscape. He highlights the times and its consistencies (or lack of consistency). Among other books that also stand out are Like a One Eyed Cat: Photographs by Lee Friedlander 1956-1987 (1989), American Musicians (1998) and Kitaj (2002).
In 2005 The MoMA staged a retrospective of his work. His picture are brief essays: images that beg to be pondered over.
Lee Friedlander continues taking photographs every day.