Friday, February 29, 2008

A Ramble in Olmsted's Parks

I'm waiting eagerly for Lee Friedlander's new book Frederick Law Olmsted Landscapes to arrive, but in the meantime I came across a piece in the NY Times (with slideshow) on Friedlander's photographs. There is also an exhibit of the work currently showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

(From the NY Times) "In the early 1980s the photographer Lee Friedlander, best known for his relentless exploration of the American vernacular — nowhere street scenes, spectral television sets, caustic self-portraits — began to develop his own interest in Olmsted, photographing Central Park as part of a growing body of landscape work. In 1988, commissioned by the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal, Mr. Friedlander started digging even more deeply into Olmsted, photographing his parks around the country for six years and then continuing to shoot them even after the project ended.

Beginning Jan. 22, 40 of the black-and-white photographs that have resulted from that fascination, most never before on display, will go on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the exhibition “Lee Friedlander: A Ramble in Olmsted Parks,” keyed to the 150th anniversary this year of the design of Central Park.

Jeff L. Rosenheim, a curator of photographs at the Met, said that he was interested in showing a selection of the works — the first solo exhibition Mr. Friedlander, 73, has had at the museum — because he saw a deep affinity between Olmsted and Mr. Friedlander, in part having to do with their mutual belief in the rewards of paying attention and looking at the world....

“Friedlander is someone who reminds me of the pleasure of seeing itself,” Mr. Rosenheim said. “And it’s richly evoked in this particular series of photographs.”

“The work is interesting because I think he’s seeing these places as kinds of living works of art,” he added. “And I think he is interested in Olmsted in that Olmsted was the engineer of a transformation of a particular way of looking at the American dream, of American imagery of nature.”

In many ways like Olmsted’s work, he said, Mr. Friedlander’s “really is a sight for sore eyes, for eyes inured to advertising and all the other images that inundate us.” (Olmsted wrote that “a great object of all that is done in a park, of all the art of a park, is to influence the mind of men through their imagination.”)...

“(Friedlander) likes to get behind and among,” he said. “He likes to make that picture plane just completely dense with both meaning and stuff. He doesn’t shy away from any of what you might call bold and intense complexities.”...

“The subject itself,” he wrote of landscape, “is simply perfect, and no matter how well you manage as a photographer, you will only ever give a hint as to how good the real thing is. 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.”

“The photographs of these places,” he added, “are a hint, just a blink at a piece of the real world. At most, an aphrodisiac.”"

5B4 also has a good review of the book as well, where he says in part:

"This project in particular is interesting because it came at a time when Lee was experimenting with different camera formats and frame ratios. Within the span of the 89 images in Frederick Law Olmsted Landscapes he shifts from his Leica, to a Noblex pivoting lens panoramic camera, to his Hasselblad Superwide, and the results are noticeable beyond the obvious frame shape.

For the past two decades, Lee’s world - as he describes it - has become more chaotic and claustrophobic. Where as before he would occasionally use thickets and bushes to obscure his subjects, of late he has fought his way into them; looking out from their prickly interior. Jagged lines and straw-like hash marks of undergrowth break background architecture and formations into mirages that the eye has to fight to see. His book The Desert Seen was a starting point towards a new aggressive attitude towards the viewer‘s eyes with its representation of the high-key Arizona midday sun made even brighter by Lee’s fill-flash. It makes one’s eyes vibrate across the page with such an intensity eye strain seems to be a distinct possibility if the entire book is attempted in one sitting. Lee seems to allude to this aggressive stance in his introduction, “I think of these desert pictures together as one long sentence, not especially one written by Proust but maybe one that resembles one written by Patrick White, or, if I may presume even further, like a long solo, like one played by Paul Gonzalez with Duke Ellington’s Band, doing “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” the Newport 1956 version. More probably, it’s just like a long scratch of a fingernail on a blackboard.”...

The book is beautifully realized with the book-making “dream team” of Katy Homans on the design and typesetting, Thomas Palmer doing the separations, and Meridian Printing, under the supervision of Daniel Frank, putting the ink to paper. The lush tri-tone reproductions are nearly perfect and the ochre book cloth and large reproduction tipped into the cover lend an appropriate tone of classicism to the book’s exterior."


Bob Smith said...

This only confirms for me how brilliant he is -- I love his work - always have - always will. A lot of people don't get Lee -- but damn he does such wonderful inspiring work... thanks for posting this.

Bob Smith said...

I just found the book in stock on - I can't wait to see it. Thanks again.