by Jody Zellen
The anonymous eye in Motel Room suggests that Big Brother is watching. Or perhaps Big Brother will take the form of an infant whose face also stares out from the TV in an untitled print. Here the seemingly friendly face of a child looks longingly toward the empty bed that fills the bottom half of the frame.
Although Friedlander's TV images reflect a certain period in American history, their message is timeless. The TV is now omnipresent. The faces speak out. They are the all knowing, all powerful talking heads. They report the news, the weather, a tragedy--or they entertain. In Friedlander's works he captures only a moment of the action but it is enough to set the mood. The TVs are surrounded by darkness. We focus on the details: the rabbit ear antennae, the coat thrown over the door, the candle reflected in the mirror, the chair, or the table to the TV's side. We are drawn to the reflected image. In Friedlander's TV images the people are absent. The human element is represented by the image on the screen.
Like the TV photographs, Friedlander's self portraits also depict heads. In these images however, the head is Friedlander's own; and usually appears as a shadow. It emerges from the background or fuses with nature or is even reflected to infinity in a mirror or store window. For example in New Orleans, Louisiana Friedlander photographs his reflection in a store window. He stands in the middle of the sidewalk and points his camera toward the window. What he gets, in addition to his own reflection, is a suited man alongside his car, and the reflection of the many buildings that line the streets. What sets this image apart is the small white rectangle in the center of the frame that perfectly reflects the photographer's silhouette, making it a double portrait. In Louisiana, Friedlander is also represented by his shadow. In this photograph the frame is split in two by a telephone pole. His head, as a shadow, pops up from the bottom of the frame. On the right there is a cheerleader in white go-go boots below a sign that says "Spur." On the left side of the pole the image recedes into the distance before a view of a suburban street.
"Nashville," gelatin-silver print,
"New York," gelatin-silver print,
"Portland, ME," gelatin-silver print.
In most of his work, Friedlander densely packs the frame with visual information. He treats the urban and natural landscape with the same attitude--to capture, isolate and frame what is out there--creating order out of chaos as he juxtaposes diverse elements within the picture's frame.
In a career that has spanned more than 30 years, Friedlander remains best known for his self portraits and TV photographs. In these works, as well as other projects that include Factory Valleys, Flowers and Trees, and American Monuments, he explores the social landscape. Whether he is photographing an interior or an exterior, Friedlander's works offer an al-ternative way of seeing. They are not meant to be political or social commentaries. Yet by creating witty juxtapositions Friedlander can be critical and creative simultaneously. By cropping and framing the observable world he reorganizes it, making it appear new and unusual. His photographs ask us to look again and again at what we see every day but might not recognize as special.