Before Madonna was THE Madonna, she was one of Lee Friedlander’s nudes…
It’s that kind of luck that will likely evoke a Cheshire cat grin from fellow admirers of Lee Friedlander’s work. We learn about that curious event in Friedlander’s career, and much more in FRIEDLANDER FIRST FIFTY.
FRIEDLANDER FIRST FIFTY is an introduction to fifty books of photographs produced by Lee Friedlander over the past fifty years, with intimate interviews by his daughter Anna Roma and grandson Giancarlo Roma.
Lee Friedlander has a storied career as one of the most important American photographers of the late 20th – into the 21st century. He was introduced to the art world via “his pal” John Szarkowski, who curated the famed MOMA exhibit New Documents, featuring the photographs of Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander in 1967, catapulting all three to fame. Both Arbus and Winogrand passed away many years ago; Friedlander lives on and, in his mid-80s, continues to be productive. Fifty books is an enormous number of monographs for any photographer, but the actual number is even higher; his grandson Giancarlo estimates over 80, if you count smaller publications, compilations and foreign works.
As photo books go, this is of modest size, 8.5” x 9”. The text begins with an Introduction by Giancarlo T. Roma; then we leap directly into descriptions of each book. The layout is consistent: each book is presented in open two-page format. The sequence number and title of the book is on the top left, black on colored background; the colors relate to those of the original book. Below the title is a brief technical description: Publication year, dimensions, number of pages and plates, additional authors (prefaces, introductions, afterwards, etc.), publisher, book designer, country where printed, and finally the ISBN number. A photo of the original book cover graces the inside top of the right-side page. There’s a short quote from the original book, in a circle, from each book. Three to five illustrative and carefully chosen photos are included. Although small – many are 3 x 5 and smaller – they’re beautifully separated duotone offset lithography, although important details may be lost due to the small size. Between every two summary pages is a two-page spread with full size photos from each of the next two books The real meat of the summary are interview questions by Lee’s daughter and grandson, with Lee’s answers, both informative and intimate.
After the summaries comes a brief Editor’s Note, also by Giancarlo, an Index of Photographs, a plug for the limited edition collection of all fifty books, a list of each book’s photos with page numbers, and finally the copyright page, providing copyright notices for photos by Lee Friedlander and the Introduction by Giancarlo, but also Design by Anna Roma and Marvin Hoshino and Production by Anna Roma.
One clue to Friedlander’s aesthetic is how he describes his two books of nudes. The first, Nudes, published in 1991 he later states, was John Szarkowski’s book. We learn from Friedlander that Szarkowski played a large role in the editing, and often chose more formal compositions. In The Nudes: A Second Look, a looser, messier aesthetic is at play, showing more of the model’s environment. The aforementioned nude of Madonna is in his first Nudes--Just by happenstance!
His landscapes provide another clue to his aesthetic. “Recent Western Landscape 2008-09”, for example, also illustrates his somewhat messy compositional preference, while Apples and Olives (Book 27) and “Cherry Blossom Time in Japan: The Complete Works,” Book 28) illustrate his more lyrical side.
Self-portraiture was one of the dominant themes that he explored throughout his career. It was the subject of his first independent book (Book 2, “Self Portrait”), continued with “Self Portrait, Second Edition (Book 15, 1998), “Lee Friedlander” (Book 17, 2000), “Self Portraits, Third Edition” (Book 26, 2005), and finally “In the Picture: Self-Portraits 1958 – 2011” (Book 35, 2011). These self-portraits are more compositional explorations than psychological probings, often witty and without narcissism.
Book 7, “Lee Freedlander: Portraits,” further explores the subject. His images are often fleeting and seemingly casual, or quite formal.
Insights from FRIEDLANDER FIRST FIFTY
Friedlander is both a genius and a very lucky man! His photographs are marvels of intelligent, quirky seeing, with an unobtrusive technical perfection. His compositions are often highly complex, but precise without being mannered. Friedlander was also fortunate to have been born in upstate New York; he had his first one-man show at the Eastman House in Rochester, New York. Born in 1934, his first book, Work from the Same House, was published in 1969, a collaboration with famous artist Jim Dine. His second book, Self Portrait, came out just one year later (1970) was co-designed with Marvin Israel, a star art director. He’d heard about Meriden Gravure, and there met Richard Benson, who produced the duotone plates for his images. Benson is also famous in his field; he later received a McArthur Foundation Genius Grant. Book 32, America By Car, was “dedicated to my pal, John Szarkowski”.
This book is about, rather than by, Lee Friedlander. The questions asked by Anna and Giancarlo reflect the closeness of their relationships, yet remain focused on his body of work, thus remaining relevant from an art history point of view. It lacks the details of a full biography, but does give us insight into the creation of each individual book.
This book is a collaboration between SPQR Editions and haywire press. Anna Roma is Lee’s daughter and Giancarlo’s mother. Lee’s daughter Anna is the wife of photographer Thomas Roma of SPQR Editions, LLC, publisher of curated photography books based in Brooklyn, NY. Anna is Managing Director of that firm. And haywire press sells signed Lee Friedlander books, special editions and portfolios from the artist's private stock.
For photography art historians, museum curators and gallery professions, and for serious fans of Friedlander’s work or for anyone interested in photography as an art, this book is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. In summary, this book is an enjoyable introduction to, and summary of, an important photographer’s life and work.
Photos courtesy of Friedlander First Fifty
About the Author:
Joe Barabe shares that he fell in love with photography when he bumped into The Family of Man exhibition catalog, and then studied photography under photojournalist Martin Huss in Mannheim Germany. He then ran a photo center for the US Army’s Recreational Services. Joe Barabe works as a Scientific Photographer and Research Microscopist specializing in art materials and documents analysis (Barabe & Associates LLC) and now is focusing more on promoting his fine art photography, including the remarkable images you see here. and recently launched his photography website to promote his fine art photography. Please Visit Joe Barabe photography website.