April 24, 2009
Lee Friedlander: Self Portrait
Lee Friedlander, New York City, 1966
Self Portrait is a collection of photographs all featuring Lee Friedlander himself in various locations, in reflection, in shadow, and occasionally, in full view. What is particularly interesting about the production of these images is that this was not a project that he set out to create. Rather, these self-portraits accumulated over time, simultaneous to other work.
Lee Friedlander, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1965
Lee Friedlander, Buffalo, New York, 1968
These photographs are interesting in that they show Friedlander in an objective light. Often, when artists create self-portraits, they are not creating an image of themselves but rather an image of the person as they would like to be seen. Friedlander, however, does not make himself appear more attractive, interesting, or intelligent than he is. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he shows himself wearing nothing but a pair of boxers. The photo is direct and unforgiving, not glamorous. He takes an outside view and thus creates photographs that are true to life. Still, Friedlander cannot remain completely objective. He decides where he will place himself in the world. It is not by accident that in photograph he appears perfectly within the confines of the hanging frames in Buffalo, New York. He is a still figure within the chaos of the frames at various angles and heights. Every photographer must decide from which angle he will be photographing and what the subject matter will be. The pictures, according to John Szarkowski, should be seen “not exactly as portraits but as sketches of tentative identities being tried out to see if they fit, in which case they might be adopted as more of less permanent roles and obligations”. Friedlander does not create a stable image of himself through this collection of photographs, but rather a mutable one that adapts to it's surroundings.
Lee Friedlander, Route 9W, New York, 1965
Lee Friedlander, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1967
Throughout the pictures it becomes clear that, however hard one tries, a person cannot distance themselves from the scene around them. The artist becomes part of the picture. Every person becomes a part of the scene they step into. One's surroundings also have an effect on who a person is. In different settings, people will inhabit different roles. They will portray different personas. Self Portrait shows those different sides of people, the effect that people have on their environment, and the effect that the environment has on them.