Lee Friedlander: At Work and Sticks & Stones ______________________________________________________
Museum of Contemporary Photography March 12-May 14, 2005
Additional Resources for Viewers and Educators Museum of Contemporary Photography Columbia College Chicago 600 S. Michigan Ave. Chicago IL, 60605 www.mocp.org To schedule an exhibition tour, please call (312) 344-7793.
Lee Friedlander: At Work and Sticks & Stones Additional Resources for Viewers and Educators The Museum of Contemporary Photography Columbia College Chicago
Contents: Page 3-4
Just Look At It, Introductory essay by Rod Slemmons.
Lee Friedlander At Work.
Lee Friedlander: Questions for Looking and Discussion.
Lee Friedlander: An Abbreviated Timeline.
Just Look At It Lee Friedlander was born in the logging mill town of Aberdeen, Washington in 1934. He began photographing in 1948 because of a “fascination with the equipment,” in his words. His first paid job was a Christmas card photograph of a dog for a local madam named Peggy Plus. He later attended the Art Center School in Los Angeles to become a professional photographer, but left almost immediately. In 1956 he moved to New York and began freelancing. Because of his love of jazz he found work producing album covers. He sought magazine assignments and eventually met people in New York who would change his life: Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Louis Faurer, Helen Levitt, Richard Avedon, and, from a previous generation, Walker Evans. Friedlander and his new friends, along with innovative curators like John Szarkowski and Nathan Lyons, changed the course of American photography in the 1960s and 70s. He and Maria DiPaoli were married in 1958 and moved to a small town on the Hudson River where they live today. American culture and society changed radically as Friedlander began his career—the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, political assassinations, the Hippies. He preferred, however, to try to understand this time by looking to the side of the causal action or purposefully away from it--ongoing life in the street, tangential evidence of change. Ultimately, and with great honesty, he recorded his own reactions to change, and discovered that photography is better at identifying changes in the self attached to the finger on the shutter than recording transformation of the society at large. His first book, Self Portrait: Photographs by Lee Friedlander, Haywire Press, 1970, is based on this discovery and contains the seeds of almost all of his later work both formally and in the sense that we never lose sight of Lee Friedlander as the point of view, even superficially as his shadow or reflection in the image. This is what he sees based on his own wry humor and complex sense of order. It is our business what we do with it. Since Self Portrait, he has published fifteen books, matching the sequential journey through a book with his own internal ordering of how he sees with the camera. A friend likes to tell how his father, when asked to help fix or explain a problem on the farm where he grew up, would always respond, “Just look at it.” Lee generally says something like this when asked how his photographs work or why he made them. And he means it in the same spirit. First, if you don’t figure it out for yourself you will quickly forget what you discover and it won’t be of any use to you. And second, don’t use somebody else’s way of looking or you won’t see anything. To the close observer, Friedlander even builds in safeguards to keep his audience from seeing his way. It has become increasingly difficult to see photographs as the visible world has been almost completely plastered over with lenticular representations of itself. Strangely, as the photograph becomes the world, it disappears—or perhaps more accurately, it loses its informative opacity. And because photographs look so much like seeing, this process threatens our possession of our own vision. It could be said that Lee Friedlander has made a lifelong job of trying to reverse this phenomenon. He marches straight into the heart of 3
enemy territory, grabs photography by the throat, using its own weapons against it, and forces it to give us back the use of our eyes. One way he has accomplished this is to take the camera (he refers to this as “walking his camera”) where it wouldn’t normally go. The At Work exhibition, published as a catalog by D.A.P., New York, in 2002, is a compilation of six commissioned projects that required Friedlander to photograph in a variety of work places. It is often politically expedient to keep the American worker tied up in abstract rhetoric so unless there is a big industrial accident covered by the media, we rarely get to see what other people’s work places look like. Friedlander went to these places—from small manufacturing shops to a supercomputer assembly plant—with no agenda but his own, not looking to make pictures of interesting things but to make interesting pictures of what was there. A tension builds up between our curiosity about what these places look like and Friedlander’s invention of ways to look at it. It is tempting to wonder how many intrusive exposures it took before these people dropped their guard and returned to the alert, Zen-like state of labor developed long ago to transcend poisonous repetition. Another strategy Friedlander has employed over the years involves a surprisingly small but sharp set of formal tools used in a wide array of combinations. His most recent project, published in 2004 as Sticks and Stones: Architectural America by D.A.P. and Fraenkel Gallery, is a definitive set of instructions for the use of these tools. Most are ways of animating the flat photographic image by building overlapping layers—reflections, transparencies, scrims of fences or branches that we must look through as well as at. We find ourselves wondering where the surface of the print is in relation to the information in it. Other strategies cause the image to release its information in a slower, more controlled way than we are used to in advertising or journalism—unexpected juxtapositions, especially of foreground and background elements, and found text that causes the viewer’s mind to shift gears, and to read in multiple, often conflicting ways. He recently commented that as a child he was fond of moving around quietly and “lining things up” with his eyes. As a mature artist—he considers Sticks and Stones his best book so far—he has transformed this childhood game into picture building skills that function on the level of metaphor, allowing him and us to connect sight and understanding—to both see and see through. When asked early on what the Sticks and Stones project was about, he said, “architecture, or maybe more accurately, architecture of the picture.” The whole project has its own architecture. Some of the images are organized into categories, common arenas of observation, as well as image making tools. In the book these are separated by images containing cars—similar to Robert Frank’s punctuation of The Americans with images of American flags. The last section of the book, however, contains photographs that don’t fit elsewhere. Often these single images are the beginning of alleys alongside the larger structures that we are invited, or perhaps dared, to explore on our own. Rod Slemmons, Director, Museum of Contemporary Photography
When I turned sixty-five I retired from everything but work. So quipped Lee Friedlander, who, for the past five decades, has been inexhaustibly chronicling the American social and cultural landscape. Friedlander, one of the foremost photographers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, is known for his keen depictions of the worlds of jazz, of television, of urban landscapes and deserts, and of family. And throughout his prolific career, Friedlander has acknowledged the largely anonymous worker, making inventive pictures of the familiar, humdrum, yet overriding role of work in America. Lee Friedlander At Work explores the saga of the American worker through six photographic series that were commissioned by museum curators, magazine editors, foundations, and businesses. Factory Valleys (1979—80) features images of heavy and light industry located in northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania. MIT (1985—86) records the dramatic shift in the technological landscape along Route 128, Boston’s outer loop. Cray (1986) is the visual story of this Wisconsin-based maker of super computers Gund (1995) depicts Cleveland’s steel industry. Dreyfus (1992) is a composite portrait of that corporation’s New York City trading floor. Telemarketing (1995) scrutinizes workers based in Omaha, Nebraska, who help make this recent and explosive sales phenomenon possible. As Richard Benson, himself an accomplished photographer and master printer as well as Yale University dean, observes: Factories full of people and gear working together, trucks and trains, roads, restaurants and rooming houses permeate his pictures. Yet—--despite the youth of some workers—there is a sense of passing time and fading promise that recurs in the pictures…. Here, Friedlander’s practiced eye sees glimpses of the future read in patterns of the present, as the old human work of making physical objects becomes obsolete. The new age of service and persuasion, of selling ideas and promises rather than nuts and bolts, is arriving. Lee Friedlander’s At Work not only witnesses the radical change in the American 5
workplace from blue collar to desktop, but also invites us to appreciate Friedlander‘s profound contribution to photography through one constant thread, the ubiquitous universe of work. Prior to its presentation here, Lee Friedlander’s At Work was on view in three major European venues in Cologne, Amsterdam, and Paris. All works are gelatin silver prints, on loan from the artist courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. FACTORY VALLEYS Ohio/Pennsylvania, 1970-1980 Over a period of about two years, I photographed in several of the cities in this part of the Industrial North. The subjects are people at work in heavy and light industry, where, with hands and machines, they are making things that we all use. The project was commissioned by the Akron Art Institute whose director at the time was John Coplans. The project was called Factory Valleys. MIT Boston and vicinity, 1985-1986 The working project was named “Changing Technology.” I chose to photograph people working at computers as these ubiquitous machines seemed to be the vehicle for that change. The pictures were made in the environs of Route 128, a loop road around Boston, which at the time was considered a northeastern Silicon Valley. The work was printed in a catalogue called “Three on Technology,” and was commissioned and produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum under the administration of Kathy Halbreich, Gary Garrels, and Katy Kline. CRAY Cray, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, 1986 When these pictures were made, the Cray Company was the worlds leading manufacturer of super-computers. I was commissioned to do a book on Cray and its hometown of Chippewa Falls, on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the company’s founding. The book was privately printed as a gift for all Cray employees. The idea and the commission came from John Rollwagon, the company’s CEO at the time. DREYFUS New York City, 1992 I made these pictures on the trading floor and in the offices of the Dreyfus Corporation in New York City. The commission was the idea of Howard Stein, then CEO of the Dreyfus Corporation, and the prints were exhibited at the company’s corporate headquarters. GUND Cleveland, Ohio, 1995 These pictures, made in Cleveland fifteen years after Factory Valleys, are also about people at work. They are using their human skills in traditional ways to make products and to give services that we all depend on. The project was commissioned by Mark Schwartz of Nasnadny-Schwartz for the Gund Foundation annual report. 6
TELEMARKETING Omaho, Nebraska, 1995 An assignment for The New York Times Magazine led me to Omaha, Nebraska, to photograph people working at telemarketing in several companies based there. The assignment came from and was directed by Kathy Ryan, the photo editor at the magazine. -Lee Friedlander
Left and Right: Lee Friedlander Canton, Ohio, from Factory Valleys, 1979-80.
Lee Friedlander: At Work Questions for Looking and Discussion For over 16 years (1979-1995) for a variety of projects commissioned by museum curators, magazine editors, foundations, and businesses, Lee Friedlander photographed American workers to create the images that now comprise the series At Work. The following discussion questions will help viewers consider the construction and possible meanings of Friedlanderâ€™s At Work series. 1. What can you tell about the choices Friedlander made in creating these images (camera angle, lighting, timing, use of space, etc.)? 2. What do these pictures have in common? What choices did Friedlander tend to make over and over again in the creation of these images? 8
2. What types of workers do we see in these images? How are the workers alike and how are they different? 3. What other than workers do we see in these pictures? 5. Can you tell when Friedlander made these images? What do you see in the pictures that provides clues as to when they were made? 6. Is Friedlander’s style consistent throughout the At Work series, or does it change as he moves from photographing one group to another? Describe your observations. 7. What if anything do you think that Friedlander is trying to communicate about each group of workers pictured in the series? 8. Based on what you see in these photographs, how do Friedlander’s subjects seem to feel about the work that they do? 9. How is the American workplace today alike or different from the workplaces we see pictured in Friedlander’s images made in the 1980s and 1990s?
Lee Friedlander Bismark, North Dakota, 2002
Lee Friedlander Denver, Colorado, 1998
Lee Friedlander: Sticks and Stones Questions for Looking and Discussion Sticks and Stones presents Lee Friedlander’s view of rural and urban America as seen through its architecture. The following discussion questions will help viewers consider the construction and possible meanings of Friedlander’s Sticks and Stones series. 1. What can you tell about how Friedlander made these images (camera angle, lighting, use of space etc)? Why do you think he made these choices? 2. What visual elements do we see repeated throughout Sticks and Stones? 3. List ten words that you would use to describe these images. 4. How are these photographs alike or different from other images that you have seen of the American landscape or built environment? 6. People are not directly represented in these images. What do you see in these pictures that suggests human presence? 7. Do you notice Friedlander’s presence in any of these images? How? 8. How do you feel when you look at these images? Why? 10
9. How is Friedlanderâ€™s treatment of urban spaces alike or different from his treatment of rural places? 10. What do think that Friedlander is saying about the American landscape in Sticks and Stones? 11. What other than the landscape do you think these photographs are about? 12. Why do you think Friedlander chose the title Sticks and Stones for this series?
Lee Friedlander: An Abbreviated Timeline
Lee Friedlander Philadelphia,1965 (Self Portrait) _____________________________________________________________________________
1934 Born, Aberdeen Washington. 1948 Begins photographing and gets his first paid jobâ€”producing a Christmas card photograph featuring the dog of a local Madame. Upon graduating from high school, Friedlander enrolls in the Los Angeles Art Center School. He leaves almost immediately but continued to work privately with instructor Edward Kaminski. 1956 Moves to New York and begins freelancing. Because of his love of jazz he finds work photographing musicians for album covers. Friedlander soon meets other photographers including Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Louis Faurer, Helen Levitt, Richard Avedon and Walker Evans (from a previous generation) who, along with innovative curators including John Szarkowski and Nathan Lyons, changed the course of American photography in the 60s and 70s. 1958 Marries Marie De Paoli and moves to a small town on the Hudson River where they still live today. 1960 Son Erik is born. 12
Receives his first John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (he receives the fellowship again in 1962 and 1977). 1962 Daughter Anna is born. 1963 First solo exhibition held at the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York. 1964 Work included in the group exhibition The Photographerâ€™s Eye The Museum of Modern Art, New York (curated by John Szarkowski). 1966 Work included in the group exhibition Toward a Social Landscape. George Eastman House, Rochester New York (curated by Nathan Lyons). 1967 Work included in the group exhibition New Documents The Museum of Modern Art New York (with Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus, curated by John Szarkowski). 1968 Discovers and purchases the 8x10 glass plate negatives of E.J. Bellocg from a New Orleans antique store, prints some of the images, and brings Bellocgâ€™s work to the attention of historians and curators. 1970 Publishes his first monograph, Lee Friedlander: Self-Portrait, Haywire Press, New York. 1972 Receives a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (Friedlander receives the fellowship again in 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980). 1976 The American Monument, Eakins Press, New York. Work included in the exhibition and publication Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (curated by John Szarkowski). 1979 Friedlander begins the first of six commissioned projects (stretching through the 1990s) documenting American workers. First solo exhibition at Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. 1982
Factory Valleys, Haywire Press, New York.
1983 Solo exhibition at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 1986
Lee Friedlander: Portraits, New York Graphic Society.
1987 Solo exhibition, Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan.
1989 Like a One-Eyed Cat: Photographs by Lee Friedlander 1956-1987, Abrams and Seattle Art Museum, New York (with introductory essay by Museum of Contemporary Photography current director, Rod Slemmons). 1990 Friedlander switches from photographing with a 35mm Lieca rangefinder camera to a square (medium) format Hasselblad. 1992 Maria, Smithsonian Press, Massachusetts. 1996 Desert Seen, DAP, New York. 1998 Self Portrait, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. 1999 American Musicians, DAP, New York. 2000 The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, acquires 450 of Friedlander’s images. 2001 The Little Screens, Fraenkel Gallery, New York. Work included in the group exhibition A City Seen, Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio. 2002 At Work, DAP, New York. Solo exhibition at the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson. 2003 Stems, DAP New York. *Friedlander created this work while suffering from knee pain. Fearing he may not be able to continue to photograph on the street, he examined at close range the vases of flowers that his wife places around their home. After successful surgery to replace both knees, Friedlander resumes “walking his camera.” 2004 Lee Friedlander: Family, Fraenkel Gallery, New York. Sticks and Stones, Fraenkel Gallery, New York. 2005 Major retrospective of Friedlander’s work to be held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.