New York, NY – January 2018 / Fondazione Del Monte – Palazzo Paltroni / Bologna Italy
Looking back on 2017, I was fortunate to engage in several photographic presentations that offered specific themes, albeit quite different. In particular, with an invitation to participate in the prestigious 2017-18 Mdina Cathedral Art Biennale in Malta’s The Mediterranean: A Sea of Conflicting Spiritualities, as an exhibiting photographer and the only American to receive this honor, I navigated with both intention, and agenda working in tandem to add Bologna Italy to my itinerary. I boarded planes, trains, buses and such for the 3rd edition of Foto/Industria in association with MAST Fondazione’s BIENNIAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY ON INDUSTRY AND WORK. It was for me, a tasting _a mixture of art and cuisine, as Bologna is Italy’s capital of food. And, I wasn’t disappointed on both counts.
The Biennial (12 October-19 November) highlighted the work of 14 extraordinary image-makers at exhibitions located in galleries throughout a city shrouded by architecture of medieval beginnings. My arrival on 17 November afforded me an opportunity for a quick viewing. Having this very short window, I decided to limit my coverage to the images of Lee Friedlander. The Palazzo Paltroni, was the designated space to host his presentation of At Work.
For introductory purposes, one learns Friedlander is considered one of the foremost photographers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. American born (Aberdeen Washington (1934), his images detail America’s social landscape. They have been noted as “keen depictions” that include the worlds of jazz, television, urban landscapes and deserts. At Work, is a monograph dedicated to the urban life of largely the anonymous worker photographed over a 16 year period beginning in 1979. It is a commissioned work offering a cultural fabric woven with images of factories and offices, as well as tools, work practices, and relationships in professional settings. Shot in black and white with the use of a 35mm Leica, the work defined an era. “Friedlander has acknowledged the largely anonymous worker, making inventive pictures of the familiar, humdrum, yet overriding role of work in America.” Throughout the course of this assignment, Friedlander maintained his personal artistic freedom and integrity. True to his aesthetic, it is an outstanding selection of photographs that give homage to a place and time_ a brilliant documentation and archive of Middle America and its working class and social structure.
“Friedlander has acknowledged the largely anonymous worker, making inventive pictures of the familiar, humdrum, yet overriding role of work in America.” _ Fraenkel Gallery
What was of great fascination was the play between the view and the viewer. I buried myself between young students engaged in dialogue with professors, individuals from foreign lands, like me _ just enough to catch a few remarks in English and Italian. At various moments, noting the crowds, I thought of how different this all must seem _a retrospective of working class Americans in past decades, in black and white, before digital, before selfies. It was profound.
As a student, I was fortunate to have the experience to work only in black and white, capturing images with the use of 4×5, 2¼ and 35mm cameras_ bracketing exposures. And not to forget, spending countless hours in darkrooms, adjusting enlargers, and submerging hands in developers and fixers. Now, when I stare at Friedlander’s work, I am reminded of how artfully we were trained. How precise we were with every shot. Kudos for MAST and Foto/Industria for its presentation of At Work which ultimately reminds us of this lost art.
Lee Friedlander is represented by Fraenkel Gallery – San Francisco, CA. USA
Image: #1 Renay Elle Morris / renayellemorris.com
Images: #2, 3, 4 / courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery + Foto/Industria + MAST