Lee Friedlander's "America By Car" at the Whitney

Discussion in 'Book, Magazine, Gallery Reviews, Shows & Contests' started by Karl K, Nov 12, 2010.

  1. Karl K

    Karl K Subscriber

    Jan 13, 2006
    "America By Car" at the Whitney is Lee Friedlander's attempt to combine landscapes, street shots, portraiture, and photojournalism styles using the inside of cars as his frame. He drove across the USA during a fifteen year period in rented sedans, shooting with the square Hasselblad SuperWide to record scenes through the windshield and side windows of Suburus, Hondas, and Fords. After viewing about two hundred black and white prints hung in very tight quarters, I came away slightly amused, but not awed. Sure, Friedlander is very clever. He incorporates the car's A-pillar, window frames, steering wheel, and instrument cluster into each composition, sometimes effortlessly and at other times with a jarring effect. Store signs are misspelled, American flags are hung backwards, and incongruity abounds in his interpretations of rural, urban and suburban America.
    It was fun finding all the cleverly hidden "stuff" in the first fifty or so photos, but looking at the last one hundred and fifty became tedious for me. More became less.
    Perhaps I don't get it...Friedlander has always mystified me, and his "America By Car" didn't solve that mystery. This isn't Robert Frank's "The Americans", or Winogrand's "The Animals", but worth seeing if you like Friedlander's style.
  2. Dan Daniel

    Dan Daniel Subscriber

    Jul 4, 2009
    Medium Format
    200 images are too many. Doesn't matter who it is, I do not think that it is possible to look at that many images at one time. That is what books are for, and there is a book for this project. I'd consider the museum show to be mainly marketing for his gallery, creating demand for all the prints (hey kids, collect them all!!). The book is how to experience the work.

    I see Friedlander primarily as a court jester figure. Full of inside comments and jokes on photography. Very clever, in a good and playful way. Humor is often dismissed in art, unfortunately. And at the same time, as a great jester does, Friedlander has created an ongoing record of the American environment that is personal and quirky and yet, in totality, actually rather poignant and awe-inspiring in its complexity. I think it is his light touch and visual play that has let him keep working and moving, and can let some of the depth of his work slip by unnoticed.
  3. Trask

    Trask Subscriber

    Oct 23, 2005
    35mm RF
    I saw Friedlander's work on exhibit in Paris a few years ago, and also came away underwhelmed. Sort of the emperor's clothes thing -- I think he has a reputation, so people keep saying his work is outstanding. It didn't come across that way to me.