Lee Friedlander: Keeping His Eyes on the Road

I went up to the Whitney Museum last Friday night to see the new Lee Friedlander show. Whoa - it's knockout time! All these photos, shot from the inside of his car looking out, were taken by Friedlander on the slightly strange Hasselblad Superwide camera. Superwide indeed! In these photographs you'll find yourself looking at the dashboard, the rear view mirror, and across the street all at the same time. Well actually Friedlander is showing you how to look at all these things at the same time. No actually Friedlander is showing you how to take pictures from inside the car, and still look at all these things at the same time.  This article in the New York Times amusingly explains the technique better than I ever could.

The "subjects" of these photos, aside from the highly detailed dashboards, "plush interiors", and random car parts (vents, sound systems, door handles. locks), include buildings, stop signs, civil war memorials, national parks, Walker Evans-like churches, Lee Friedlander-like shrubbery, Christmas decorations, cemeteries, roadside signs, ice cream stands, gas stations, other photographers, friends, and park rangers, Lee Friedlander-like western desert scenes - well actually everything here is Friedlander-like. You will find yourself knee deep in his world. Humorous, detailed, in your face photographs that are a stunning combination of Atget, Pop Art, and Picasso.

Lee Friedlander delights in seeing how many eyeballs he can juggle at the same time. And the exhibition at the Whitney includes 192 photographs (edited down from how many??) hung in such a way that it dares you to try to look at them all on the same day. Packed in tightly on each of two facing walls of one room are 50 photographs in 2 horizontal rows of 25 photographs each. I got dizzy just counting them. And there is a third wall with 14 more photos in that same room. And still yet another room with 64 more photographs similarly hung.  According to the intro notes on the Museum's wall,  "the photographer specified that the photographs be densely hung in order to maximize the impact of multiple angles and points of view evoking the sensory overload commonly experienced by American drivers ."

That being said, the book that is the catalog of the exhibition (available here) is it's own pleasurable experience to view. All 192 photos are included, but they are much more digestible in book form,where there are only two photographs intelligently juxtaposed per page spread. And included only in the book are some choice quotes - one by Mose Allison, as well as  "one two three, look at Mr.Lee" ("written and sung by the Bobbettes") justaposed with a self-portrait photograph of "Mr. Lee" wearing a 'Lee' jeans t-shirt.

Meanwhile, the Whitney exhibition is up only until November 28, so you'll have to plan quickly. There is also an astonishing Edward Hopper show at the Whitney as well - want to see what the real colors of his familiar paintings look like? And don't miss the cool short film Shadow by the great cinematographer Ed Lachman, based on an unfinished film by River Phoenix. Lots of great stuff. Friday's are free after 6pm, so you can save on the high end admission at the Whitney. Then buy the book with the money you saved, and take your eyes for a drive.

all photographs © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco