Lee Friedlander – Class Research

“At first, my presence in my photos was fascinating and disturbing. But as time passed and I was more a part of other ideas in my photos, I was able to add a giggle to those feelings.”
– Lee Friedlander

1. Research background of individual artists behind these images.

  • Lee Friedlander was well-known for his social landscape and nostalgic photography 3
  • Born on 14th July 1934 in Aberdeen, Washington3
  • Attended Art Centre College of Design, Pasadena, California to study photography under Edward Kaminski from 1953 to 1955 3
  • In 1956, he moved to New York, in order support himself he started doing photographs of jazz musician for record jackets like Count Bessie (1957). Eugène Atget, Robert Frank and Walker Evans inspired his early work; mainly black and white stills. 3
  • Lee Friedlander does not present himself as the main subject of his self-portrait. He shows the environment he lives in and visits, allowing viewers to create their own interpretation.
  • In portraits when he shows himself, he does not dress up intentionally but presents himself as he is. This is a contrast with other artists, who are often “dressed to impress”, as they want to “create an image of the person they would like to be seen” 3.

2. What do they want to convey?

– Lee Friedlander, Madison, Wisconsin, 1966

In Madison, Wisconsin, Lee Friedlander’s shadow is cast on the woman in fur coat. It gives the viewer the freedom to interpret the photograph however he/she likes. In this case, the shadow draws attention to the subject and gives an impression that the lady is being stalked. The darkness of the shadow also gives a mysterious feeling to the photograph.

– Lee Friedlander, Madison, Wisconsin, 1966

The image depicts a framed photograph of a woman staring from a window display. It makes use of the following rules of photography:

  • Hard & Soft Light
  • Rule of Thirds
  • Photographer’s face is cut off, open to viewer’s interpretation of the photograph

Lee Friedlander’s shadow is cast across the framed photograph in a seemingly ordinary setting. It is one of Friedlander’s photography style as seen in his other works. This is an unusual style as many would avoid including shadows in our photos.

Friedlander dares to test the boundaries of angles, perspective and form in his photography.

He produces visual documentations of society through new perspectives, where social landscape takes on a literal meaning. It is a study of the urban interaction between people and our non-living surroundings. Juxtaposed against natural landscape photography, we study various aspects of the world in a way that is never before seen.

He finds beauty in subtlety and simplicity. What we see as a normal, mundane part of our life becomes his subject. In a sense, the world literally becomes his oyster because he so actively tries to capture the parts of it that always escape our eye. The photographs he take seem simple and plain on the first look, but produce lasting impressions on the viewer because of the mood it produces. They are all familiar scenes with a twist. With the way he photographs his works effortlessly, he takes ‘point and shoot’ to another level. He doesn’t just document, he interacts with his subjects in a way that is not overt but still present. In fact he takes the concept of ‘subject’ and toys around with it like it means nothing.

In conclusion, Friedlander’s photographs introduced perspective and photographic observation in a way that is unseen and unexpected then. It is unsurprising that he was one of the most influential photographers of his time.

Friedlander becomes part of the photo through his lingering shadow in the window, upon the portrait of the lady. The photo itself without the reflection would have seem detached, a plain snap of mundane objects in the window. However, he subtly inserts himself into the picture, becoming one of the subjects together with the road behind him. The play with chiaroscuro seems to accentuate the presence of the photographer, but it does not feel overbearing. Light and dark all seem to come together to match Friedlander’s idea of the normal shop window. The reflection, instead of making the photo chaotic and confusing, gives it a sense of balance, taking what’s both inside and outside and forming a whole new setting for the photo. There is now much more than just a couple of photo frames and a dark receding background. Even though he inserts himself into the photo, which supposedly will make it personal, there is still a sense of emotional detachment. He takes simplicity and introduces complexity, but it is not messy. It has an organised form, and Friedlander manages of the overall effect of it extremely well.”


  1. Kim, Eric. “Street Photography Composition Lesson #9: Self-Portraits.” Eric Kim Street Photography Blog. November 11, 2013. Accessed September 15, 2015. http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/11/11/street-photography-composition-lesson-9-self-portraits/.
  2. Kolf, Emily. “Reading Light.” Lee Friedlander: Self Portrait. April 24, 2009. Accessed September 15, 2015. http://reading-light.blogspot.sg/2009/04/lee-friedlander-self-portrait.html.
  3. “Lee Friedlander.” Lee Friedlander. Accessed August 19, 2015. http://www.famousphotographers.net/lee-friedlander.
  4. “MoMA.” Lee Friedlander. New York City. 1966. Accessed August 19, 2015. http://www.moma.org/collection/works/55941?locale=en.
  5. “MoMA.” Lee Friedlander. New York City. 1966. Accessed August 19, 2015. http://www.moma.org/collection/works/55948?locale=en.
  6. Angier, Roswell. Train Your Gaze: (a Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography). Lausanne: AVA, 2007.

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