Lee Friedlander, 'Cincinnati

Lee Friedlander, 'Cincinnati

Lee Friedlander (born 1934)
'Cincinnati, Ohio'
Ohio, USA
1963
Gelatin-silver print
Width 16.9 cm x height 25.5 cm
Museum no. PH.769-1980
© Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

The Photograph

This image is typical of Friedlander's work since it does not offer us an obvious meaning. His choice of the shop window as a subject matter calls up an obvious reference to the photographs of Parisian shop fronts taken by Eugène Atget at the turn of the century. We could, with this relationship in mind, read this image as a value-free document of a shop window. It could, however, also refer to Atget's adoption by the Surrealist movement as the 'father' of uncanny images of street objects and architecture.

The image is also partly a self-portrait (he produced a series of self-portraits around this time, some of which showed him reflected in windows and shop-fronts). If we look carefully at the centre of the image, just below and to the right of the 'cashier' sign, a silhouette and three fingers poised on a camera are just visible.

There is also a sense that the image has a symbolic content, although what is signified is not clear. Does the bed stand for anything? Is the play with interior and exterior, with the reflection of the street 'into' the shop a symbol of some sort? The ambiguity of meaning in his photographs gives them an uneasy resonance, which is probably Friedlander's intention.

The Photographer

Lee Friedlander received his first public recognition from his portraits of jazz musicians which he began to produce while in Los Angeles in 1954. He moved to New York in 1956, working mainly for Atlantic Records.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s Friedlander was absorbing the work of photographers such as Robert Frank ('The Americans' was published in 1959) and Atget, which he saw at Walker Evans's home. Friedlander also met his contemporaries Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus when he moved to New York.

Like Winogrand and Arbus, Friedlander was producing street photographs at this time and their work was brought together in a show at MoMA in 1967 entitled 'New Document'.

Although these photographers had a strong effect on each other's work, they differed in concept and intent. Winogrand and Arbus, generally speaking, chose subject matter that was inherently demanding, at times bizarre, while Friedlander concentrated on commonplace objects, the meaning of which is elusive. His images create an uncommon understanding of the ordinary objects.

Friedlander's street photographs, produced in the 1960s (including this image), form the body of his work that has received the most attention. It constitutes, however, only a fraction of his output. Over the last twenty-five years he has worked continuously on commissioned projects and there are many publications of his photographs. He has produced, for example, self-portraits, nudes, images of people in their working environment, portraits and landscapes in Japan and Egypt.

The image is also partly a self-portrait (he produced a series of self-portraits around this time, some of which showed him reflected in windows and shop-fronts). If we look carefully at the centre of the image, just below and to the right of the 'cashier' sign, a silhouette and three fingers poised on a camera are just visible.

 

This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 13b.