Friend of the family, Leigh Wells, has something to say:
Lee Friedlander’s exhibition at the Whitney consists of one hundred and ninety-two densely hung, black & white photographs from his trips across the US in rental cars. The photographs span two rooms and take a great deal of time to look at. These extra minutes we often don’t spend reveal a surprising breadth, disguised by a simple, if not banal, premise: pictures from a driver’s seat.
Despite having gone once before to see Lee Friedlander’s America By Car (huffing, puffing, and leaving after a quick glance), I really enjoyed this show on a return visit. The Whitney exhibition text notes “the brilliantly simple conceipt of deploying the sideview mirror, rearview mirror, the windshield, and the side windows as picture frames within which to record reflections of this country’s eccentricities and obsessions at the beginning of the twenty-first century.” There is truth in that statement, but what makes the work even more significant is its indirect comment on the culture of photography.
The number of writers and photographers who have traveled across the United States, beit by car, train, by hook or by crook, is both inspiring and oftentimes disheartening for emerging and established artists. If the challenge of art is to create the new, there is not a drop of new blood left in the idea of making work while traveling from here to there (not to say that the work itself may not somehow be unique or worthy). Our generation of photographers is among a number of others that teethed on Robert Frank’s The Americans, Jacob Holdt’s American Pictures, and works by the FSA photographers (Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Russell Lee to name a few) who traveled the American west. So is it interesting to any working photographer that Lee traveled across the US, regardless of how much we may respect his work? Nope.
Ignoring the knowledge of Friedlander’s presence, I observe how the shifts and subtle changes in the images present new scenarios and a new person behind the driver’s wheel each time. More than this, I think of the car as the photographer’s steed, the key to our adventures and hunt for the extraordinary in the banal. The presence of the cars’ windows as frames within the image remind me not of our postmodern lust for enframing, but how traveling in a car is connected with our experience of seeing and its role in our lives as photographers. The car, be it rental or a Honda Civic in its last miles, has been our trusty steed and imperfect savior.