New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 43 December 20 to 26, 2012

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Naked Ladies
Lee Friedlander
Nude by Lee Friedlander. Source:
Lee Friedlander, "Nude" 1983

There’s nothing new about Lee Friedlander’s inaugural exhibition at Pace since many of these images were first shown, to much acclaim, at the Museum of Modern Art in 1991. Even so, this series of nudes, photographed from 1977 to 1991, are probably as refreshing now as when they were first exhibited. The reason is simple: Friedlander took the art of the nude to a new level by showing women as real people. His nudes aren’t glorified to look like the ideal woman; instead he shows his models in casual poses, usually in their own homes, with warts and all, so to speak. They have hairy armpits, unwaxed crotches and creased skin––a few even have pensive expressions on their faces, as humans sometimes do. Some are lying in bed or sprawled on a couch. Some look posed and others do not. Adding to the casualness of the image are cluttered backgrounds: a night table covered with bottles of cosmetics, a lamp bisecting a model’s knee. He wants us to see that there’s more to photographs of nude women than breasts and butts. John Szarkowski, who was MoMA’s Director of Photography for many years, said Lee Friedlander’s nude photos were “… the most unblinkingly, unreservedly candid descriptions of other people’s bodies that serious photography has produced.”

Of course, there are still plenty of curves and well-toned limbs on display and not just by Friedlander. Nine images by Bill Brandt and nine by Edward Weston, most of them iconic, are juxtaposed alongside Friedlander’s photos to acknowledge their inspirational role. There are luscious curves in some, an intense graphic sensibility in others. Their influence on Friedlander is evident in his Nudes of 1978 and 1979 with their emphasis on the female form, in some images with close-ups of bodies, or models posing on couches and beds.

Nude by Lee Friedlander. Source:
Lee Friedlander, "Nude" 1979

I have a mixed reaction to Friedlander’s nudes. Several seem too casual. For example, in Nude, 1990, the model has her arms wrapped around a table leg, which seems too interruptive. In Nude, 1981, Friedlander shoots the model through the top of a lampshade that blocks the view. That may be the point but I want to see more.

Still, there is a lot to see. The pose of Nude, 1981 is easy to look at, graphic and sensuous in one glance. The graceful symmetry of Nude, 1980, which shows two models with hands on their heads, is compelling. And Nude, 1979, is another striking graphic pose.

With 42 images by Friedlander and another 18 by Brandt and Weston, take your time and enjoy the view.

Lee Friedlander

Pace Gallery
32 E 57th St 2nd Floor
Midtown         Map

212 421 3292

Friday, October 26 to
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Hours: Tue-Fri, 9:30 to 6; Sat, 10 to 6