Monday, March 9, 2009

A Weekend with Family and Friedlander

While visiting my family in Lorain, Ohio over the weekend, my 87 year old Aunt Mary made a rare and much anticipated visit with her photo albums in tow. Aunt Mary has happily assumed the role of the family historian though has never written anything down. The pictures are her record. We often hear about families suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, so while my family has not yet been touched by this memory crippling disease, I was still amazed as Aunt Mary seemed to be able to recall a story or two from each of the pages of the albums.

Who was married to whom and who was in the wedding, where everyone lived and worked between Italy, Pennsylvania, and finally Ohio, who owned what car, and family pets animated this oral history. Aunt Mary remembered everything. I suspected there were even a few details she left out, like her time working at a nightclub. Aunt Mary insists she was not a dancer in the club though a picture of her in a leotard seems to suggest otherwise. But this was her history more than mine last weekend. I asked her how she is able to remember all of these details. She said, “When I feel a bit depressed, I look through my pictures and remember how wonderful my family is and much fun my life has been.”

My visit to see family included the requisite stop to the Cleveland Museum of Art. This time I stopped to see the Friedlander show. Lee Friedlander has always been one of my favorite photographers. No doubt it’s the wonderfully entertaining puns found throughout much of his oeuvre that entertain me. Many of his photographs I hold especially dear because his work was perhaps most easily recognizable during slide identification exams in both History of Photography classes I took. Each time one of his pictures projected onto the screen during an exam, I let out an audible sigh of relief. Many of these images are included in this exhibition.

Friedlander’s photographs and books are displayed in chronological order within various categories making it easy to see simultaneously a breadth and depth of his career of five decades. Not only did I recognize many of these photographs, but some of the subjects too. I’ve visited or lived in many of the cities in which he shot, including Boston, Los Angeles, and Albuquerque, NM. I also met at least a couple of his subjects, like Maya Lin and John Szarkowski. With such familiarity of the work combined with walking through the show with my sister, I couldn’t help but recognize the Friedlander show as a wonderful complement to my Aunt Mary’s photographs. As a photographer of “the American social landscape,” Friedlander captures the wonder and wit American life.


James Kopniske said...

We are glad you enjoyed our exhibition. Thank you for sharing your experience with your readers.