the warp and weft of the American vernacular


Although he is one of the most important American photographers of his generation, Lee Friedlander remains an enigma. Born in Washington in 1934, he came to prominence in 1967 in the “New Documents” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, which featured his work alongside that of Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus.

All three photographers were inheritors of the documentary photography tradition. This genre of photography began during the 1930s, when image-makers such as Walker Evans and Berenice Abbott were inspired to document the Great Depression’s bleak and shocking counter-narrative to the American Dream. Influenced by the ideas of modernism, these photographers focused on the gritty, unromantic, quotidian detail of the world around them.

Arbus’s illuminations of social misfits and Winogrand’s wide-angle snapshots of edgy, agitated crowd scenes clearly belong to this genre of social reportage. Superficially, Friedlander fits in there too. With a repertoire of subjects ranging from street scenes to nudes, self-portraits and factory workers, he has spent decades documenting the warp and weft of the American vernacular.

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