Friday, March 28, 2008
Lee Friedlander, New Mexico, 2001
What’s the best thing about Lee Friedlander?
A couple of years ago, when I was lucky enough to see his current retrospective, now at SFMOMA, in another venue, I would have said: his imagination, his formal and structural imagination. I can’t think of another photographer who so consistently amazes us both by the vantage from which he approaches his subjects and by the amount of information not only included but often perfectly harmonized within his pictures.
Now, though, I’d say: his sense of humor. Or maybe I mean his joie de vivre. Either, I guess, because they’re inseparable. Not just from each other, but from his visual imagination as well. Lee Friedlander loves this world, and shows it not just by including more of the world in his pictures, but by allowing it to arrange itself so happily.
The preternatural combination of these elements in Friedlander’s work really snaps into focus when you think of other photographers known for their sense of humor. No one doubts that Elliott Erwitt, say, was a funny guy with great joie de vivre, but Erwitt’s humor lived in his subjects, or in his juxtapositions of subjects - you know, big dogs and small dogs. Same with Gary Winogrand - no one ever forgets the cow licking the cowboy’s face.
Friedlander’s humor, in contrast, is in the very structure of his pictures. In the same way that a particularly catchy and syncopated rhythm can make you smile, a good Friedlander leaves you almost giddy with appreciation. It’s a gift, isn’t it? From the world to him and from him to us.
(At SFMOMA until May 18; also, at Fraenkel, America by Car, until April 26.)