I-eeee-I will always love Leeeee

I find that I more often change my opinion of artists from love to hate. “New” photography can quickly go from an exciting breath of fresh air to T-R-E-N-D-Y. Smoke and mirrors, collage, dialogue with commercial work, bright colors . . . it’s all contagious. I could run down a list of work I’ve seen in the last year that just doesn’t do it for me any more.

But the more interesting aspect in the equation is me. I’ve seen myself flip flop flap flep flup and flyp many times in the ten years that I’ve been photographing. The work I applied to Bennington with vs. the work I applied to ICP-Bard with vs. the work I’ve been doing lately. It would be difficult to identify that one eye/hand/mind had created these works.

Throughout those transformations, many artists have inspired me—many artists I have loved. But if I could think of one photographer who always has sat in the back of mind, has always comforted me and surprised me—one photographer who has remained constant as I navigate turbulent times, it would be Lee Friedlander.

Image
Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1968

Lee Friedlander shares something in common with my favorite poet, Philip Larkin. They share a starkness and a humor. They share a “this is how I see it, and I won’t apologize.” They share an obsession with form. However, Friedlander’s outlook may be a bit less doomed.

Image
Self Portrait in Shadow, c. 1970

Friedlander was a part of my education since the first time I picked up a camera. (You know, the image of the TV at the end of the bed. OH! Or his shadow on a lady’s fur collar). The New Documents. The group is a good teaching model for the Szarchowsian eye and for using photography to look. Those things go hand in hand in making good photographs.

In 2005, I had the chance to see the Friedlander retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art. It was floor to ceiling Friedlander. Rooms that lead into rooms that lead us across America—by car, in text, in shadows. I convinced my aunt that I couldn’t leave without the catalogue. I still keep it on my desk.

Image
from Letters from the People, 1993

Right now, I’m looking at his Letters from the People project from the 1980s and the role of the car throughout his 50-year career. I’ve studied his self-portrait style, his sticks and stones, and his downtown America. Throughout different moments in my development as a photographer Lee Friedlander has demonstrated a clarity of vision that I will always strive for.

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