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America by Car: Lee Friedlander's Photography
Lee Friedlander, Texas, 2006, from the series America by Car, 1995-2009. Gelatin silver print, 15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. Photo by Lee Friedlander.

Lee Friedlander, Texas, 2006, from the series America by Car, 1995-2009. Gelatin silver print, 15 × 15 in. (38.1 × 38.1 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. Photo by Lee Friedlander.

Following in the tradition of  American photographers like Walker Evans is Lee Friedlander.  Since the 1950s, Friedlander has focused on everyday Americana, creating expansive black and white images of the social landscape. His latest photographic exploration focuses on views of street life from within America’s quintessential vehicle for the open road—the rental car.

Of Friedlander, the Museum of Modern Art says:

…Lee Friedlander upended the earnest humanism of postwar photography with his lively, irreverent glimpses of city streets and his tongue-in-cheek self-portraits of the 1960s. The offhand wit and graphic verve of those early pictures have never disappeared, but since the early 1970s the photographer’s mastery of craft, affection for tradition, and voracious curiosity have spawned a fluid stream of observation, ever more nimble and sensuous.

At 76, Friedlander is still roaming the country and capturing enduring images. His current show at the Whitney Museum in New York City spans 192 images captured over the last decade of desolate, suburban, rural and urban America as seen from and framed by rental cars.  The images feel cluttered as the car interior contrasts with the exterior landscape Friedlander captures.  Of his images The New York Times writes, “cars distance people from one another, this series reminds us over and over.” And although Friedlander did visit the shrinking cities of the Rust Belt, “in almost every case the car is a kind of shield that deflects empathy.”

What do you think? What do Friedlander’s images symbolize about America’s relationship with automobiles?

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  • Thanks for your note. I amended the post to reflect only Walker Evans.

  • The Dog Man

    Lee Friedlander’s photos in “America by Car” do not symbolize anything except the singular vision of one of America’s finest artists. It would be helpful to learn about the artist before assigning arbitrary meaning to the art. To Friedlander, photography is (to borrow William Eggleston’s terminology) a democratic art form that is all-encompassing. His photographs seldom emphasize singular subjects, instead they give equal weight to every subject within his frame. The photos are only “cluttered” to those who fail to understand this concept.

    It should also be noted that Friedlander is not actually “following in the tradition” of the photographers named, with the possible exception of Walker Evans. Friedlander’s work predates the photography of Christenberry and Eggleston. In fact, William Eggleston has indicated quite clearly that Friedlander’s work expanded the understanding of modern photography so that Eggleston’s own work could be appreciated.