Lee Friedlander: Letters from the People

Black and white photograph of a detail of a hand painted sign of the letter 'L' painted onto a wall, shadow of some leaves

Over the past thirty years the American photographer Lee Friedlander (born 1934) has extensively photographed what has been described as “the social landscape.” His work concerns itself not simply with the documentation of various cities, but with the distillation and particular character of these places.In his photographs the startling and often disorienting juxtapositions create a dense urban collage.

Ten years in the making, Letters from the People captures language as our shared cultural reality. Through the inclusion of photographs ranging from commercial signs to graffiti, these photographs simulate the incessant visual noise of the urban world where disconnected messages and disembodied utterances compete for our attention. With a methodology closest to jazz Friedlander culls from the streets first letters, then numbers, and then messages, all fueled with social energy, ethnic diversity and cultural rhythms which attest to a fundamental freedom of expression. While some graphically advertise the quotidian of life (chicken, shoeshines, lunch), most express beliefs and yearnings. An elongated black “Sin” calls to us from a white wall; METS is re-invented to mean “My Entire Team Sucks.” Endless messages about love and sex shout out in spray paint or whisper from tiny scratchings. Friedlander, in a nearly-invisible style not unlike Walker Evans and Helen Levitt, tips his hat at human ingenuity of expression and our apparently insatiable need to communicate.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1979
gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 inches (sheet) [27.9 x 35.6 cm]

This exhibition is presented on the occasion of the recently published book (D.A.P./ Distributed Arts Publishers, New York) of the same title. Letters from the People has been recently exhibited at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal and at The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Lee Friedlander is the recipient of countless awards and grants including a MacArthur fellowship (1990) and the MacDowell Colony Award (1986). His work is widely exhibited and published including most recently The Jazz People of New Orleans, Like a One-Eyed Cat, and Maria.

This exhibition is concurrent with Helen Levitt: In the Street

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