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Lee Friedlander

(b. 1934)


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(1934– ).

Photographer. Cool and witty, working almost exclusively in black and white, he numbers among the premier artists of his generation. His intricate, precise, and visually sophisticated work generally pictures American vernacular experience or landscape. Friedlander grew up in his native Aberdeen, Washington, and studied at the Art Center School (now Art Center College of Design) in Los Angeles from 1953 to 1955. After moving to New York the next year, he specialized in portraits of New York and New Orleans jazz musicians. Soon, indebted to the examples of Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, and Robert Frank, he worked primarily as a street photographer and became known, along with Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus, for social landscape photographs. In these he observed street life with a dispassionate eye but also appreciation for ironic or ambiguous juxtapositions. In the early 1960s he also produced a peculiar and unsettling series picturing television sets glowing in domestic settings. Delighting in intellectual play with form and content, he has more recently often turned to nature for subjects, or has combined the natural with the manmade in psychologically layered compositions. To heighten both spatial and interpretive ambiguity, he often incorporates reflective, transparent, or translucent surfaces, or he complicates perception by including screening elements such as tree branches. Transience and his own fleeting participation inform numerous images including his shadow or reflection within the frame. In 1958 he rediscovered brothel portraits from around 1912 by E. J. Bellocq (1873–1949), a New Orleans photographer whose life inspired Louis Malle's 1978 film Pretty Baby. After acquiring Bellocq's surviving glass plates, in 1966 Friedlander employed appropriately old-fashioned methods to produce prints for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and an accompanying publication, E. J. Bellocq: Storyville Portraits (1970). Friedlander's published collections include Self Portrait (1970), The American Monument (1976), Lee Friedlander: Photographs (1978), Like a One-Eyed Cat: Photographs by Lee Friedlander, 1956–1987 (1989), Nudes (1991), The Desert Seen (1996), and American Musicians (1998).

Subjects: Art.


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