FEATURE LEE FRIEDLANDER
ven though the female nude has been a major focus ofartistic attention for centuries. looking at Lee Friedlander’s photographs of naked women is still an oddly disconcerting experience. The association between pictures as graphic as these and a sense of furtive guilt is hard to break. even in a respectable gallery setting. In addition, the photographic codes and conventions which normally distinguish art from smut — evidently deliberate configurations of pose, light and shadow. a clear sense of composition, a delicate avoidance of the earthier bits of the human anatomy — seem here to have been entirely disregarded. But then the rules ofthe porn game have all been broken, too. Friedlander‘s nudes emphasise. with a kind of dispassionate curiosity. the fleshy physical reality ofhis subjects— these are real women, neither abstracted nor airbrushed; real bodies complete with real pubic hair. Each has her own unique wrinkles. spots, stretch-marks, bikini lines, bruises and broken veins. The frankness of the photographs is unusual in itself— you don‘t find many open-crotch shots outside girlie magazines — but it‘s the combination of intimacy and detachment in Friedlander‘s 8 The List 25 October - 7 November 199]
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pictures which makes them so unsettling. The women, all professional artists' models. were photographed in their own homes. often surrounded by emphatically mundane objects — as well as a woman sprawled across a bed. we see the ﬂowered poly-cotton quilt cover. the book. lamp and alarm clock on the bedside table; the texture ofthc rug or sofa a woman sits on is picked out with as much care as that of her skin. They remind me. in a way. of the ‘readers‘ wives‘ shots in porn mags. with their disturbing mix of the private and the public. the air ofalmost amateurish homeliness some of them possess.
Friedlander, ofcourse. is far from being an amateur. Now widely regarded as one ofthe most significant post-war American photographers. he is perhaps best known for his urban landscapes — understated. seemingly arbitrary snapshots of contemporary Americana which capture objects and people so to draw new, unexpected relations and perspectives between them. He is also famous for his low profile; not only does he never give interviews. but his images are apparently devoid of any personal ‘statements‘. His shadow sometimes makes a Hitchcockian appearance in the frame. an occasional
Widely acclaimed for his urban landscapes as one of the most significant post- war American photographers, LEE FRIEDLANDER has turned his attention to the female form with disquieting results, as Sue Wilson discovers.
ironic trademark which crops up in a couple ofthe nudes. but in general he takes the line that ‘what you need to know is in the picture‘. You can't. however. help being
aware of his (clothed) presence in the nudes:
the models tend to look distinctly ill at ease. passive but tense and self-conscious beneath his gaze. reminding you that they have removed their clothes and adopted these poses at his direction.
In a straw poll ofmale and female friends. the range of responses to the photographs was unhelpfully inconclusive. though intriguingly diverse. so I admit to speculation in arguing that the sexes will react to these images in very distinct ways. But men's and women‘s experiences of
having bodies are radically different, thanks
to the stereotypes. pressures. expectations. ideals with which the female form is loaded. so it seems likely that their responses to photographs of bodies will vary accordingly. My own uncomfortable reactions were influenced by the way I automatically identified with the models. an identification I can’t see a male viewer experiencing— he is far more likely to identify with the photographer, the person looking rather than the one being looked at.
The pictures provoked similar sensations
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