Fundación MAPFRE presented in Madrid today, 29th September, the Lee Friedlander exhibition, a complete journey through the career of the American photographer who, after more than sixty years taking photographs on a daily basis, is still active today. The exhibition can be visited from 1st October to 10th January 2021 at the Recoletos Exhibition Hall in Madrid.
In his work, Friedlander (Aberdeen, Washington, 1934), counteracts the ideals of modern practice by looking to popular culture for inspiration, in a similar way to pop art, thus breaking with the traditional means of representation. He incorporates a trivial repertoire, creates confusing visual arguments and shakes the viewer with a sense of irony with from juxtapositions of apparently unconnected objects and ideas that contrast with the seriousness of the former professionals.
The exhibition proposes a complete chronological tour of his extensive work, highlighting some of his most significant projects, such as American Monuments. In addition, some of his most significant publications and documentary materials are shown, which reveal the complex work of one of the most influential photographers of our time.
During the sixties, commissioned works forced Friedlander to travel all over the country, which resulted in his most artistic work. He completed several portraits of jazz musicians commissioned by Marvin Israel, director of the record company Atlantic Records, the only samples of color photographs that we find throughout his career, as well as other more personal projects. Such is the case of The Little Screens. A set that belongs (except for one) to the Fundación MAPFRE Collections and in which elements appear that will be recurrent throughout his work, such as the union of unalike objects that when associated generate irony and humor.
His first trips around Europe also occur during this period. For the first time, a selection of eleven photographs taken in Spain in 1964 are on display.
The Seventies and Eighties
During the seventies Lee Friedlander purifies his language and the juxtapositions of the previous photographs diminish, conveying an organization of space that is less chaotic: Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1972, is a good example. In this image all the objects are seen with the same clarity.
One of the relevant characteristics of the artist’s work is the subversion of photography rules, an aspect that is especially evident in The American Monument, 1976, one of his best known projects, but also in the nudes and self-portraits, as well as in the family photographs. These family photographs, which Friedlander gives special care and attention to, are images that apparently could have been taken by any of us, and show the greatest affection and respect, which does not mean sentimentality. Maria, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1970, is one of the best known images of his wife, with whom he has lived for over sixty years.
At the beginning of the nineteen-nineties, the artist changed his small-format camera for a Hasselblad when he became interested in taking photos of the American landscape, allowing him to continue working on the subjects that interested him, but from a wider screen perspective. Thanks to the new format he can reach larger spaces and the motives seem to gain entity and body.
This period also includes different projects that he carries out on commission, such as Factory valleys, 1982, in which he documents the industrial area of the Ohio River Valley, but in this case, focused on the workers when performing their duties. The series Omaha, Nebraska, 1995 has similar characteristics. In this case large format photographs show close-ups of the telephone operators involved in the compositions.
Two years thousand and two thousand and tens
The new dimension captured with the Hasselblad camera makes the closeness of the photographer to the elements in his images, and hence with the viewer, increasingly evident. An example of this are the images in the book America by Car, published in 2010. A two-year project in which he travels through fifty of the country’s states in rented cars. This results in photographs of shadows, steering wheels, dashboards or wing mirrors, capturing bridges, monuments, churches, motels or bars. The complexity of the compositions is taken to its limit using a technique that is actually quite simple: the frame – of the windscreen or window – within the frame of the camera.
For the 2012 series Maneqquin, Friedlander rescues his 35mm Leica. For this series he returns to New York City and Los Angeles and once again plays with building reflections and shop windows passers-by. Inside the buildings, mannequins are displayed in different poses, almost as if they were real. Despite the theme, the images are not a direct criticism of consumerism, nor a copy of previous photographs, but a reflection on his work, something that Friedlander does constantly, so that the viewer can also reflect with him.