Feature

Lee Friedlander: America by Car

The photographs in Friedlander’s road series offer “snippets of Americana” through the frame created by a car's windshield.

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Through Nov. 28

The frame created by the window of a moving car is an image most of us keep filed in our visual memory banks, said Liesl Bradner in the Los Angeles Times. Photographer Lee Friedlander has played with the effects of that frame for decades. “Traversing back roads and highways” in various rental cars while training his camera on the world outside, he gathers each time fresh “snippets of Americana” that celebrate the nation’s “beautiful, kitschy, gritty, and diverse landscape.” Nearly 200 such images are now on display at the Whitney Museum of Art. Lonely churches, war monuments, misspelled signs, and various “roadside follies” all enter into provocative conversations with the omnipresent dashboard, curved glass, and door handles.

Friedlander’s great insight is “that cars are essentially illusion factories,” said Karen Rosenberg in The New York Times. The windshield, like a camera lens, shapes what we see, an effect amplified by the camera he uses—a Hasselblad Superwide, whose crisp, detail-packed images make the car itself difficult for us to ignore. “In many cases Mr. Friedlander photographs a building head-on and aligns its bottom edge with the windshield or window, effectively eliminating the picture’s middle ground.” The results can be dizzying, especially when a rearview mirror reflects a different view of the scene or, “in a few cases,” of “the photographer and his camera.” Even when humor lightens the mood in these images, it’s hard not to notice the general absence of human faces. That, of course, may be part of the point. Friedlander’s road series reminds us “over and over” that cars “distance people from one another.”

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