Monday, March 21, 2016

looking at lee friedlander

This afternoon, I was looking at all 358 photos in Lee Friedlander's book of self-portraits, trying to work out in how many of them he was using flash.  Maybe twelve or fourteen - probably a few more.  There were just a couple in which he'd very deliberately used its properties to bleach a face - his own - or to illuminate the faces of himself and a friend - as seen in a shop window reflection; more interesting were the small handful in which he'd used it playfully, made it impossible to work out whether the flash was flaring, or whether the light came from a birthday candle or a carefully positioned light bulb.  What I learned, far more than anything about his use of flash, was how ludic he was with his self-portraits, and how free of vanity (as his face becomes longer and more jowly and more camel-like).  There are self-portraits in which he frames himself in store mirrors, or his head appears in front of a tv screen on display, or he juxtaposes his reflection with a cardboard cut-out beauty in a photographer's window.  And again and again, he used his shadow as part of a composition - maybe side by side with another head or sculpture; maybe with a tree or cactus growing out of him; maybe, again, with an image of someone else's face where his own would be.  It's not as easy as one would think, doing something creative with a shadow that creates a tiny narrative: all I could offer up at 5 p.m. this afternoon was an exercise in symmetry.

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