Biography | Bibliography
Friedlander studied photography at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. In 1956, he moved to New York City where he photographed jazz musicians for record covers. His early work was influenced by Eugène Atget, Robert Frank, and Walker Evans. In 1960 Friedlander was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to focus on his art, and was awarded subsequent grants in 1962 and 1977. Some of his most famous photographs appeared in the September 1985 Playboy, black and white nude photographs of Madonna from the late 1970s. A student at the time, she was paid only $25 for her 1979 set. In 2009, one of the images fetched $37,500 at a Christie’s Art House auction.
Working primarily with Leica hand-held 35 mm cameras and black-and-white film, Friedlander’s style focused on the “social landscape”. His photographs used detached images of urban life, store-front reflections, structures framed by fences, and posters and signs all combining to capture the look of modern life.
In 1963, Nathan Lyons, Assistant Director and Curator of Photography at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House mounted Friedlander’s first solo exhibition. Friedlander was then a key figure in curator John Szarkowski’s 1967 “New Documents” exhibition, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York along with Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus. In 1973, his work was honored at the Rencontres d’Arles festival in France with the screening “Soirée américaine : Judy Dater, Jack Welpott, Jerry Uelsmann, Lee Friedlander” presented by Jean-Claude Lemagny. In 1990, the MacArthur Foundation awarded Friedlander a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2005, the Museum of Modern Art presented a major retrospective of Friedlander’s career, including nearly 400 photographs from the 1950s to the present; it was presented again in 2008 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Whilst suffering from arthritis and housebound, he focused on photographing his surroundings. His book, Stems, reflects his life during the time of his knee replacement surgery. He has said that his “limbs” reminded him of plant stems. These images display textures which were not a feature of his earlier work. In this sense, the images are similar to those of Josef Sudek who also photographed the confines of his home and studio.
Friedlander began photographing parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted for a six year commission from the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal beginning in 1988. After completing the commission he continued to photograph Olmsted parks, for twenty years in total. His series includes New York City’s Central Park; Brooklyn’s Prospect Park; Manhattan’s Morningside Park; World’s End in Hingham, Massachusetts; Cherokee Park in Louisville, Kentucky; and Niagara Falls State Park. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the design for Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition of Friedlander’s photographs of that park and a book was published, Photographs: Frederick Law Olmsted Landscapes.
E.J. Bellocq: Storyville Portraits. Photographs from the New Orleans Red-Light District, Circa 1912. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1970.
Harry N. Abrams: Like a One-Eyed Cat: Photographs by Lee Friedlander, 1956-1987., New York: Seattle Art Museum, 1989.