Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sticks and Stones, & Lee...

The America by Car exhibit got me to thinking how I've never been a rabid Friedlander fan, although I've always admired the general cleverness of his photos and had many a personal favorite- and I distinctly remember how his book on nudes caused near irreparable harm to my libido. That all kind of changed with the publication of Sticks and Stones. Here was a a photographer operating with a near Jordanesque fluidity and confidence, capturing the kind of stuff that I have repeatedly strived for, alluded to, and mostly failed at- and nailing it time and time again with absolute clarity and precision. Of course, I could choose to delude myself into thinking that the only reason I haven't reached such maturity of vision is because I just don't own his Hasselblad SWC (uh-huh).

The first half of Sticks and Stones depicts traditional small town and suburban America at virtual war with its own surroundings- the commercial, industrial and security detritus that passes for so much of modern American architecture and landscape. And Friedlander's dynamic, wide angle compositions and graphic use of space juxtaposes those opposing forces with all the visual irony and drama that can be arranged within a squared viewfinder.

The "second half" still has its share of winners, to be sure, but it seems to suffer from a visual fatigue, as if Lee somehow got preoccupied with the minutiae of it all and got lost in the resulting clutter. Texture replaces space, and the view gets muddled to the point of being downright claustrophobic. In part that's due to the more urban environment where space is at an absolute premium, but this is also territory that Friedlander has explored before. Even in the vastness of The Desert Seen he seemed to relish squeezing as many twigs, sticks and bushes into one frame as humanly possible, even likening it to running his nails across the chalkboard (agreed).

Sometimes ya just gotta stomach the "eccentricities" to enjoy the genius, and there's more than enough of the latter in Sticks and Stones to make it unto my all time favorites' list (and
I'd still love to get my hands on a Hasselblad SWC).

PS- To familiarize yourself with his prolific history, you can get the handsome 480p. SFMOMA retrospective catalog for a mere $45- and catch the final paragraph in this article!

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