This is one of a group of thirty gelatin silver prints in Tate’s collection from the American photographer Lee Friedlander’s ongoing series Self Portrait 1958–present (Tate L03458–L03487). The photographs in Tate’s selection were taken by Friedlander between 1963 and 2009 and printed by him at a later date. Self Portrait is Friedlander’s longest-running body of work; it was also the first series that he published as a photobook (Self Portrait, Haywire Press 1970), a form which has become central to his practice. The title of each image refers to the city or location in which it was taken; for example, Tallahassee, Florida or Tokyo, Japan, showing the global geographic reach of Friedlander’s documentation. In his introduction to the photobook Self Portrait, the curator John Szarkowski described how Friedlander saw the location of each image as integral to its making since ‘if he had not been in that city he would not have been able to make that picture’ (Friedlander and Szarkowski 1998, p.48).
Largely self-taught, Friedlander moved to New York in 1956 and became acquainted with Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon who, in the later half of the twentieth century, along with Friedlander himself, were central in changing the way that photography was seen and displayed in a museum context. Friedlander has typically worked in series, focusing on such themes such as mannequins in shop windows, television screens in hotel rooms, and the landscape shot from his car window. Beginning in 1958, not as a specific project but rather as an extension of his overall practice, Friedlander turned the camera onto himself and set about documenting his own figure within his immediate surroundings and the urban landscape. His figure appears in many forms, often partially or wholly obscured – for example hidden behind a low hanging light fitting in Provincetown, Massachusetts 1968 (Tate L03469) or with his head positioned directly behind the top of a trophy in Tallahassee, FL 1969 (Tate L03458) and Buffalo, New York 1968 (Tate L03464). At times he appears as a mere shadow cast onto the pavement or onto a lamp post (in Lafayette, Louisiana 1972 [Tate L03459]) or as a blurred reflection in a mirror (Chicago 1967 [Tate L03463] and Canada Rockies 2005 [Tate L03480]) or shop window (New York City 1968 [Tate L03461] and New Mexico 2006 [Tate L03483]). In other images he hides himself within the natural landscape (Tucson 1997 [Tate L03476] and Santa Fe 1995 [Tate L03477].
For Friedlander life and photography are inseparable and this ongoing series spanning more than fifty years represents his desire to document the passing of time, as manifest in his own image as in the rapidly changing environment of post-war America. Repeatedly returning to this theme, documenting the physical changes of his body over time both honestly and methodically, Friedlander explained, ‘I started again after I did a couple and realized that I’d metamorphosed into something else. I wasn’t the same person any more, and I wanted to document that.’ (Quoted on Fraenkel Gallery website for exhibition Lee Friedlander: Self-Portrait, June–August 2000, http://fraenkelgallery.com/exhibitions/self-portrait-2, accessed 16 November 2013.)
The first edition of the Self Portrait photobook (1970) included work from 1963 to 1970. Friedlander has gone on to release further editions of this publication, as well as additional photobooks of the series (in 1998, 2005 and 2011) which, when seen as a whole, chronicle both the evolution of this series and his life.
Lee Friedlander: Photographs, New York 1978.
Lee Friedlander and John Szarkowski, Self Portrait, second edition, New York and San Francisco 1998.
Peter Galassi and Richard Benson, Friedlander, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2005.
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