I have mentioned before that I come from a Fine Art background, I have a Bachelors Degree in Art, in fact. Part of that degree process was taking several classes in Art History. Which I loved.
For many, the required Art History classes are just something that you need to endure until you can get to the good stuff, i.e. making “art”. The scholastic equivalent of eating your veggies before you could have any dessert. Not for me. I loved, and to this day still love, Art History. The journey of how we got from there to here, how generations of artists influence next generations. And why. And just seeing how much cool stuff has been made over the centuries. Art History encompasses everything about us as civilization and a people; our history, our politics, our religions, our experiences, our passions, our livelihoods, our deepest nightmares, our most glorious ambitions.
I was an Art History nerd. I could recite a dozen painters from the Italian Renaissance, and even give you the important differences between the Italian Renaissance and the Northern Renaissance. When it came to my own work, I was solidly in the tradition of the New York School Abstract Expressionists; Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko were all my heroes and I passionately studied all their work.
Because, that’s what you do. In the Fine Arts, being able to recite your influences is part of the deal. It is, in a way, expected. It would have unimaginable to talk to a gallery owner about my paintings and not name drop at least a couple of influences. It is just what you do.
Not so with photography, it seems.
Most of what photographers talk about is gear. Cameras, lenses, megapixles, anti-aliasing filters, Photoshop plugins, etc etc. I’ve had hundreds of conversations with photographers, professional shooters, avid hobbyists, good friends – the question “Who are some of your influences?” hardly ever comes up. Almost never, in fact.
And I’ve felt this blog beginning to lean that way too. All my ranting about lenses. So, I’ve decided to correct that. From time to time, I am going to introduce you, gentler reader, to some of my influences as a photographer. And no better place to start than here.
Obviously. Born in Aberdeen, Washington in 1934, Friedlander studied photography at the Art Center College of Design located in Pasadena, California. In 1956, he moved to New York City where he photographed jazz musicians for record covers. You can read the rest of the Wikipedia Bio here. For our purposes, however, here is this, “Friedlander’s style focused on the “social landscape”. His art 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.”
When I was painting, I was pure abstract (see above). But, then I started talking photography classes for alternates. And, for some reason, I just started taking pictures of street signs. And streets. And buildings. And rock quarries. It just sort of happened.
Lee Friedlander was attracted to these same things. The world around us. Look at the above picture. Street, poles, cars, fire hydrant, power lines, a house, a sitting dog. These are things we see daily. But then, look again. Why is that dog sitting so obediently at a crosswalk? Why isn’t that house in a quiet residential neighborhood? Why is that sidewalk not a sidewalk, but a brick pathway?
And then look deeper. Look at the intersections of all those lines, vertical and horizontal. Look at the way they lead your eyes from the top to bottom, left to right and back. Look at the way they break up the space. The tones too, serve to block out very specific spaces of real estate within the frame. The whites, blacks, and those glorious middle tones.
This is a masterclass of composition. And most people would have walked right by it. That’s the kicker.
Lee Friedlander shows us the natural patterns in our unnatural world.
And he is one of my greatest influences.