Tuesday, June 29, 2010

America By Car- Lee Friedlander

I was going to bypass Lee Friedlander's America By Car since there were several photographs from that essay included in the incredible Sticks And Stones and well, you know, the economy- my economy... Then I finally saw it at SFMOMA, and yeah, had to get it.

We should all be so lucky to go out like Big Ol' Lee, saving and making our most and best towards the end. His latest book is relatively small, but hefty- and like any, all and every of Lee's books, it would benefit from a much tighter edit. The photographs on facing pages often tend to compete with each other in a very distracting way. Throw in the fact that some of the photographs are also crammed full of details and imagery in Lee's sometimes claustrophobic style, and it can get rather discordant. And needless to say, all of the landscapes within this book of roadside Americana are framed within the confines of the car window/door/dashboard- if you find it more gimmick than intriguing, it'll get right tiresome, right quick.

And while not ignoring any of the above, I still made sure to order it first thing when I got home, because the good majority of these framed car window landscapes, despite their inherent limitations and repetition, work amazingly well incorporated within the overall compositions. Actually, this is not the first time that an entire photo essay has been shot from inside a car where the vehicle itself serves as the contours of the frame. Chuck Forsman did it quite well in Western Rider- but it is the first time where the car interior plays such a prominent and integral part of the composition as a whole, not just a bit player providing ornamental fluff on the periphery. I'm just amazed at how many times Friedlander's actually able to pull it off. Practically everyone with a camera attempts one of these at some time, and gimmick or not, it's obviously harder to pull off than it would appear, especially so often, so successfully.

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