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Indepth Arts News:

"Lee Friedlander: Photographs 1956 - 2004"
2005-11-16 until 2006-02-12
Haus der Kunst
Munich, , DE Germany

The Haus der Kunst presents, with nearly 500 photographs, the most extensive exhibition of the American photographer Lee Friedlander to date. The retrospective was organized by Peter Galassi, chief curator of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is traveling under the auspices of The International Council. The retrospective has had, with its 5,500 visitors per day, a very successful beginning at the Museum of Modern Art. The Haus der Kunst is its first European venue, and the sole in Germany.

Lee Friedlander has brought new amplitude to the old idea of 'a body of work.' A draconian selection of Friedlander's best individual pictures would be stunning, but it would brutally amputate what it purports to explore. The exhibition and book address these challenges by assembling closely related pictures in 60 groups of photographs, each narrowly tailored by date, theme, and style.

In the late fifties Friedlander worked steadily as a freelance photographer for many magazines. His other line of work-portraits of musicians for their album covers-grew out of his lifelong love of jazz and other music. Color portraits of John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, and Miles Davis are among the few examples of Friedlander's commercial work on display in the exhibition.

Friedlander's personal work burst into maturity in 1962. He was probing what he called "the American social landscape"-shop fronts, ads, TVs, cars, the whole panoply of the city street. What was new about Friedlander's work was its playfulness-his talent for transforming supposed photographic errors into beguiling puns and puzzles. In his photographs a pole often gets in the way; the frame cuts off something important; a plate-glass window confuses inside and outside; the photographer's own shadow or reflection intrudes. 

The Pop-inspired wit, offhand wisecracks, and formal innovations that mark Friedlander's first maturity would never disappear from his work. Beginning in the early 1970s, however, his sensibility and style broadened considerably, yielding a fluid stream of observation, ever more graceful and sensuous. His pictures became richly descriptive, alert to subtle variations of texture and light. Another factor was his growing affection for tradition, notably for the work of the French photographer Eugène Atget (1857-1927). 

Henceforth quantity also would be part of quality: The best pictures are better still in the company of their cousins. As Mr. Galassi remarks, Friedlander was now "adept at turning any scrap of junk into a lavish puzzle." Some works measure the evolution of perennial themes; others are devoted to personal projects or to commissions. Factory Valleys: Ohio and Pennsylvania (1982) is a collection of views of the industrial Midwest complimented by eloquent pictures of people at work. His studies of workers in the factories of Ohio and Pennsylvania are admiring, even intimate, but they don't pretend to be portraits. Instead, they are tributes to the skill and steady concentration of people "making things we all use," as Friedlander later put it.

In the early 1990s, Friedlander's growing desire to photograph the landscape of the American West prompted him to try out a medium format camera with unusually sharp and wide lens. Soon he adopted it for the full range of his work. The expansive lens invited the eye to explore under, over, and around his elaborate foregrounds and probe far into the distance. Friedlander's grand natural landscapes of the American West are presented in depth for the first time. These convoluted scenes testify to Friedlander's passion for looking and to the capacity of his art to infect others with that passion.

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