Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander

We photographers don’t really make anything: we peck at the world and try to find something curious or wild or beautiful that might fit into what the medium of photography can hold.

– Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander is an American social landscape photographer, best known for his humorous, poignant self-portraits and pictures of everyday people, urban places and objects. In The Little Screens, for example, disembodied heads float on television screens in hotel rooms, while street signs turn into surrealist sculptures.

Friedlander has said he throws photographs into boxes, waits until they’re full, and then revisits them to assess their similarities and potential use in future series. His projects tend to grow organically, a little at a time and can be the culmination of several years of sporadic work.

On the street, almost everything is left to chance, apart from where Friedlander stands and when he clicks the shutter. He is so familiar with his 35mm hand-held Leica camera, square-format Hasselblad Superwide and trademark black and white film, that he barely has to think about using it.


Route 9W, New York1969 © Lee Frielander

Washington, D.C.1962 © Lee Frielander
Detroit1963 © Lee Frielander
New York City1980 © Lee Frielander
Aloha, Washington1967 © Lee Frielander

Anything that looks like an idea is probably just something that has accumulated, like dust. It looks like I have ideas because I do books that are all on the same subject. That is just because the pictures have piled up on that subject. Finally I realise that I am really interested in it. The pictures make me realise that I am interested in something.

– Lee Friedlander

Friedlander’s self-portraits are particularly interesting because they aren’t conventional. Overlapping reflections and shadows are often included, and he isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself or to self-deprecate.

Often, he will present huge amounts of information in his frames, due to his preference for wide-angle lenses. He also adds foreground obstructions in a radical break with tradition.

For over 60 years, Friedlander has been taking photographs. Even now, aged 83, he still manages to inspire and innovate.

Recommended Reading

Friedlander: Museum of Modern Art


Published to accompany Frielander’s retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art. This book includes over 750 photographs grouped by series and is the most comprehensive review of his career to date.

Self-Portrait: Photographs by Lee Friedlander


Includes an introduction by John Szarkowski and is one of the most creative books about Friedlander’s self-portraits.

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