Foam museum in Amsterdam invite us to explore America and its context through a rather unique photographic exhibition of Lee Friedlander. “America by car” could be seen as a new part of Friedlander’s continuously developing series, which he first described in 1963 as the “American social landscape and its conditions”.[1] 

          His era was dominated by cultural and social transformations such as civil right movements, migration, housing and automobile manufacturing. Over the next few decades and by the end of 1980’s anything would be his subject of interest, which Friedlander found in American Architectural scenes and aspects of everyday life.

I would rather say, he was inspired rather than influenced, by Walker Evans, his colleague, who documented social aspects of that time, in both rural and urban context.

Although Friedlander went beyond Evans “social documentation”, he introduced another element/tool than the camera. In his book “Sticks and Stones”,  full of photographs taken around the country, the interior parts of the car dominate the composition of each photograph offering a new kind of perspective to the viewer who usually expects a clearly view of the scene. With no doubt that was the most significant element of his work and a new theme to carry on.

          ‘’America by car’’, goes a step further than his earlier approaches to ‘’American social Landscape” and balances between documentary and contemporary photography. When you first look at his photographs, you might consider that they look like ordinary photos of travelling experience. Although Friedlander was very conscious of how and what he was placing within the frame. Now he was using a Hasselblad Superwide Camera, with a larger field of vision and ideal clarity of depth of field. That was fundamental to his work as he added more content by welcoming foreground elements from within the car into his photographs. Friedlander describes how that works for him:

    ‘‘ Somebody else could walk two feet away to get those poles and tress and other stuff out of the way, I almost walk two feet to get into it, because it is a part of the game that I play. It isn’t even conscious; I probably just drift into it… it’s like a found pleasure. You’ve found something that you like and you play with it for the rest of your life’’.1

[1] Kim, E. ‘10 Lessons Lee Friedlander Has Taught Me About Street Photography’ [Online] [29/3/2013]

The dashboards, the windshield, the side mirror, the rear view mirror, all these functional parts of the interior took a new meaning and created a three dimensional space into two dimensions. Furthermore the mirrors can be seen as ”viewfinds” of a camera which offer to viewer/passenger an alternative perspective. Apparently just by looking through the interior perspectives that Friedlander provides and isolates, the viewer gets a ”privileged view”.

         On the other hand, the photographs could be seen as merely (additional) documents and observations upon the natural, iconic, ethical and manufacturing context that Friedlander documents for decades in his own unique way. All the above get us closer to what makes this exhibition so special for the visitors and the photographer himself.

         The exhibition is produced in 3+1 rooms and the collection of 192 black and white photographs is divided into thematic series. As the visitor walks through the exhibition each thematic series challenge him to recognize its theme, its potential. It’s not that easy, each photograph deserves examination in detail, details that often we overlook, though the scale of the photographs is as big as it needs, it works well.

Left: Part of the exhibition, showing the quality of space, the photographic series and the inbetween exhibition space    Right: Characteristic photograph of  ‘’ The New Cars’’ collection where the car is shown as a reflection on a store window.

The second room leads to the in-between space where the visitor meets Friedlander’s earlier work ”The New Cars” of 1964. A project where Friedlander had his own point of view upon photographing the new year’s car models by making cars part of the ”American social Landscape”.  The visitor has the chance to examine both exhibitions at the same time and explore his photographic style in a chasm of nearly 40 years.

       The simplicity of the exhibition and the organised thematic series made the 192 photographs really stand out and be clearly comprehensible. ”America by Car” is a celebration of everyday life and it suggests to be playful and contextual.