Lee Friedlander has been visiting Louisiana longer than most of us have been alive. So while he isn’t native to this land, his perspective is certainly unique.
Well known for a style of photography that includes reflections, obstructions and other elements that create visual puzzles, Lee Friedlander in Louisiana — exhibiting at NOMA through August 12 — reveals those elements were equally attuned to tender moments of life as it unfolded on the streets of New Orleans.
“Even the more documentary-style pictures possess elements of his visual style. They demonstrate how he could create pictures that provide information about people and places, while still playfully tilting, obstructing, and refracting those subjects,” says exhibit curator Russell Lord.
Observing the wide variety of work featured in the exhibit, it’s clear what the artist loves about Louisiana: the music, the people, and the architecture — which all come together to create a visually stimulating and constantly changing social landscape.
During the curation process, Lord and Friedlander spent time sorting through older negatives and prints, rediscovering some seemingly forgotten images. “There is a group of photographs, made over a couple of decades, in which the Plaza Tower appears again and again,” says Lord. “Many of these have never been seen and they will be presented all together in the exhibition.”
Together, the images personify the tower as a mobile protagonist, playfully peeking out from behind or ominously looming above other structures throughout the city. Even though Friedlander is stalking the tower, recording it over time and through space, the repetition of its appearance almost seems to animate it, as if it were following the photographer.
“I think my favorite period of Lee’s is the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he was interested in mirrors and reflective shop windows,” Lord says. “A good example is his photograph New Orleans, 1968, in which he created a double self portrait by photographing through a shop window. You see his reflection in the window, and then also in a mirror that was placed at the back of the shop.”
Friedlander’s photographs from this period all appear to the viewer quite visually complex, but without feeling dry. These images often have a sense of humor, but require a bit of dedication on the part of the viewer to make sense of the space in the photograph. Once you do figure it out, though, there’s always this wonderful “a-ha” moment.