Lee Friedlander Photographs from America By Car at the Whitney

Lee Friendlander photographs at the Whitney museum use the inside of a car to frame signs like this 1950's car

Photography hall-of-famer Lee Friedlander went on a lot of road trips over the past decade and a half, jumping behind the wheel of a series of nondescript rental cars, usually joined by a couple of long-time friends, and driving all across America to see what he could see. Of course he recorded it all, in thousands of black-and-white pictures, all taken without ever leaving his vehicle. The result is this terrific little show now the Whitney, 192 Lee Friedlander photographs in all, slivers of this strange and vast and varied country, all framed by the side-view and rear-view mirrors, the windshield, the side windows. 


Lee Friedlander photograph of a police officer with a hat framed by the side window of a car

We enjoyed Lee Friedlander: America by Car quite a bit for several reasons. First and most obviously is just an appreciation of Friedlander's impeccable compositions. The framing device in every shot could have felt forced, but instead it gives us a new way of seeing all those road trip cliches (the giant statues of lumberjacks and ice cream cones and such; the distressed signage on sagging, tired buildings), and flips the standard car-as-icon-of-American-freedom on it's head, showing the vehicle to be isolating, and, to our eyes, even claustrophobic. 

A giant ice cream cone statue is frame by the car window and mirror in this Lee Friedlander photograph

Lee Friedlander: America By Car also showcases the photographer's brilliant eye for both small detail and epic setting, here informed by an obvious appreciation of both the beauty and the much-less-so of this  country's landscape, as well as a sly sense of humor. Lee Friedlander photographs are organized here by theme–shots with stop signs, for example, or people peering in, or buttes and mesas, or industrial debris, or "racy" roadside attractions–which adds both humor and connection and pathos, and makes the show a borderline "typologies" type exhibition. 

Image of a young women with the text hot babes framed by the side window photographer Lee Friedlander


When taken as a whole, there is also a strong journalistic undercurrent to the exhibition, as if to say: this is what everyday America (at least these parts of America) is like right now, in all of its tired, cheery, cheesy, wide-open, angry, ridiculous glory. Fascinating stuff. That said, the Lee Friedlander photographs amount to a small show, so you might want to pair with the interesting Christian Marclay exhibition going on until September 26, or wait until the Edward Hopper opens here in late October to visit.   


Giant sculpture of a athlete against a building framed by the passenger side window Lee Friendlander photograph

Lee Friedlander: America By Car at the Whitney Details

Lee Friedlander's photographs are on display now through November 28 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Whitney is located on Madison Avenue between 75th and 74th Streets. The Whitney is open on Wednesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and until 9:00 p.m. on Fridays. Note that admission is "pay-what-you-wish" every Friday from 6:00 p.m. until closing. For more information and Biennial images, see the Whitney's Museum website.   

Posted in NYC Events | Tagged