Home Photography Lee Friedlander’s New Orleans on Display at NOMA

Lee Friedlander’s New Orleans on Display at NOMA

If I said you could have a successful career as a music photographer you would probably jump at the idea. Working with iconic jazz and blues artists including Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Ray Charles, Miles Davis and John Coltrane would only sweeten the deal, right? Lee Friedlander’s brilliant career capturing the development of these musical legends was just the first step of his amazing journey as a photo documentarian. The New Orleans Museum of Art is spotlighting Friedlander’s work covering one of his favorite subjects, New Orleans itself. The exhibit, called “Lee Friedlander: American Musicians,” is an exploration of his work shot in New Orleans; however, it is not purely focused on musicians. During a guided tour given by the Freeman Family Curator of Photographs, Russell Lord, I learned more about Friedlander and his work. Much of the first area is comprised of images taken inside homes of local musicians  and on the streets of the city. Friedlander, as a white man, was not allowed to shoot inside of black jazz clubs in New Orleans. Instead he would meet with them in their homes, resulting in an intimate glimpse into their lives away from the stage but never far from their music. The next area of the exhibition highlighted his experimentation with the technical aspects of photography. Shot composition is something many people take for granted. Humans find comfort by things in our environment being balanced. Friedlander saw a great benefit in manipulating the viewer’s expectation of symmetry in photographs. He shot many of these images to generate unease with large areas of null space, objects partially obscuring others, and the use of reflective surfaces to alter reality without using any tricks in the dark room.Two things to be sure to look for are his versions of self-portraits and the building that stalks him throughout the city (the old New Orleans World Trade Center.) Keep in mind, the self-portraits are not what you would normally expect them to be. You can find him as a tiny outline in a small dot of reflected light, a headless shadow and a bit of him in a car mirror. These may be accidental occurrences for the amateur photog, but these were very intentional for Friedlander.

In the final section of the exhibit you find an amalgam of his photos over the years including an iconic image that I have seen for decades of Aaron Neville. It is a summary of Friedlander’s work from past to present. Lee Friedlander still makes a trip to New Orleans every year to keep building his portfolio of the Crescent City.

The exhibit “Lee Friedlander: American Musicians” runs at the New Orleans Museum of Art until June 17th, 2018.



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