* “Master Profiles” is a series profiling all the great photographers of uncontrolled life. Unlike the rest of the blog, I’m doing these in a straight profile format to make it easy for quick access to facts, quotes and knowledge on all the masters. I’ll also group them together here every time I add a new one.
Lee Friedlander (1934-present)
American photographer known for his influential photos capturing the urban “social landscape.”
Born: July 14, 1934 in Aberdeen, Washington, U.S.A.
Lee Friedlander first found an interest in photography at the age of 14. He studied at the Art Center School in Los Angeles, but left for New York City in 1956. He found a job with Atlantic Records photographing Blues and Jazz musicians, which also helped fulfill his other passion in life when it came to music. He photographed artists as famous as Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.
Lee also worked as a freelance photographer for magazines including Esquire and Sports Illustrated, while he filled his free time photographing the streets of New York. In the 1960’s, he, along other photographers like Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus, became known as a new generation of street photographers.
From early on, he was attracted to reflections and signs found on the street, which he used to add another dynamic to his photos. With a Leica 35mm camera, he framed fragments of the urban “social landscape” together, creating part of his signature style. Lee also enjoyed taking frequent road trips around the United States to capture other city streets.
One of his first big breaks was being selected, along with Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus, by the famous curator John Szarkowski for his 1967 “New Documents” exhibition at the MOMA in New York. His first published work was titled Self-Portrait, which contained self-portraits he took of himself in unique ways while photographing cities. Most of them were done using his reflection and shadow techniques that he’s become famous for.
For a short time, Lee was housebound due to arthritis and knee replacement surgery. So he photographed his surroundings for a book he titled Stems, which reflects his time at home in a style different from his other work.
Later in his career, he began photographing city parks, including published work on New York’s Central Park. Lee has more recently become focused on Hasselblad’s Superwide medium format camera and while being notoriously media shy, still photographs today.
Lee’s work has been often imitated due to his unique way of capturing fragments of the city and social landscape. When it comes to Street Photography, his style has become of one the more influential you’ll find in the genre.
- Social Landscape
- Classical visual elements of the street
- Self-portraits using shadows and reflections in the street
- Fragments of the city framed together
Camera: Leica M Lens: 35mm & 28mm
Lee works exclusively with black and white film. For most of his career he used a Leica M camera with a 35mm Summicron, but has been known to shoot with a 28mm occasionally. Later in his career, he also started working with a Hasselblad Superwide medium format camera.
“The world makes up my pictures, not me.”
“ … photographs are so loaded with information. They’re remarkable. As I said, you get both the tree and the forest.”
“It fascinates me that there is a variety of feeling about what I do. I’m not a premeditative photographer. I see a picture and I make it. If I had a chance, I’d be out shooting all the time. You don’t have to go looking for pictures. The material is generous. You go out and the pictures are staring at you.”
“… a mysterious intersection of chance and attention that goes well beyond the existential surrealism of the ‘decisive moment’.”
“With a camera like that [a Leica 35mm rangefinder] you don’t believe you’re in the masterpiece business. It’s enough to be able to peck at the world.”
“I always wanted to be a photographer. I was fascinated with the materials. But I never dreamed I would be having this much fun. I imagined something much less elusive, much more mundane.”
Some of Lee’s most famous work actually appeared in the September 1985 issue of Playboy. He had taken black and white nude photos of a relatively unknown student in 1979. That student later became one of the most known names in Pop music history, Madonna. She was only paid $25 for the photos, one of which was later auctioned for $37,500 in 2009.
Tell me what you all think about Lee’s work in the comments below! Do you have any favorite shots? Does his work impact you as much as others?