By the Seat of Your Car: Lee Friedlander

By

Published June 28, 2010

Americans love their automobiles. They love that open feeling of exploration, and the loneliness of sitting by oneself, un-holstered, in the front seat.  Lee Friedlander’s forthcoming book, America By Car (D.A.P/Fraenkel), captures that single-point perspective.  The American road, thousands of miles of highway stretched out like arteries and capillaries across the vast national geography, has proven inspirational for photographers—Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, not to mention the more regimented but influential vision of Ed Ruscha. Friedlander’s pictures are specific because the vehicle interior is itself an omnipresent character and a vista of its own. The rearview mirror, side mirror and windshield are the unsung heroes, framing each encounter.

Driving rental cars across nearly all fifty states over a span of 10 years, Friedlander, with his square-format, blank-and-white film camera, makes gleefully iconic the vernacular of the American landscape. He turns roadside signs and motels, monuments and bridges, landscapes and people—even the artist himself—into an unforgettable, fantastic romance with American-ness. Each page brings a sense of spiritual exploration, while at the same time, a deep, comfort that comes with the familiarity of the idiom, even in the rare shots where the windows are obscured by rain, snow or steam. The book’s nearly 200 photographs begin and end in New York City, with stops along the way to see prairies and plains, deserts and towns, mountains and forests–all giving way to a grand, stylized survey of the scope and scale of the country. Friedlander creates the perfect, American road trip—just in time for summer.