Depending on who you ask, the name “Lee Friedlander” means different things. For some , he’s the photographer behind dozens of iconic jazz album covers put out by Atlantic Records in the 50s and 60s. To me, he’s the inventive and tireless chronicler of everyday America, or as San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery calls it, a photographer of “the American social landscape.”
And what could be more American, more everyday, or more a part of the social landscape than signs? Fraenkel’s factually titled SIGNS, opening July 11, gathers five decades of Friedlander’s obsession with storefront windows, roadside billboards, hand-lettered ads and off-kilter notices. (Look closely and you’ll spot Friedlander in some of these images, many made while he crisscrossed the United States by car—reflected in a shop’s glass or in his rear-view mirror.)
SIGNS’ temporal span produces a journey of its own. Crude signs of the 60s give way to scenes like 1974 New York City, where a giant Coca-Cola sign rises above a chaotic framework of ticket stands. As America grows up, its signs get more sleeker, bigger, less general and more brand-specific.
For those who want to spend even more time with Friedlander’s images than a casual gallery visit allows, the exhibition also marks the release of an accompanying book published by Fraenkel Gallery, a collection of 144 sign-related photographs. Friedlander himself, now 84, will be present for a book signing on Saturday, July 13, 1–3pm. —Sarah Hotchkiss