New York was the centre of street photography in the 1960s, with practitioners drawn to the frenetic energy of a city on the make. Young photographers, inspired by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, sought to depict the world around them. Where their predecessors had opted for grand visual narratives about America and mankind, this ragged group of upstarts celebrated what amounted to street truths, photographing just what they saw. One such photographer was Lee Friedlander, who had arrived in New York in the late 1950s. He had an avid and restless imagination, and caught the rhythmic beat of the American street in his black-and-white images of everyday life.
Born in 1934, Friedlander studied photography with Edward Kaminski at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. He first came to the public’s attention in 1967 when his photographs, along with those of Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand, were included in a groundbreaking show called New Documents at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Friedlander’s style is unusual. He will often photograph a subject indirectly, and as a result his pictures can look like film stills. Diners, parking lots and high rises are seen in the reflection in a window, or out of the windshield of a car. He employs strange angles, and uses car mirrors to frame a photograph within a photograph, all of which can disorientate the viewer.
There are few self-portraits of Friedlander, although his aesthetic candour sometimes leads to him revealing himself in his photographs. One of his most famous images is of his own shadow falling on the back of a blonde woman in a fur coat. But for the most part, the photographer is content with documenting the quiet strangeness of America from the perspective of a passenger, looking at the country’s surreal beauty from the confines of a car. In 2005 he was given the Hasselblad Award for his achievements in photography.
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