Unreal Nature

October 7, 2015

Holy Trinity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… what is immediately striking in these images is the omission of direct, ongoing human presence in favor of the highly contradictory choice to record, and remember, the faces of people who appear flickering for brief seconds or minutes before disappearing into the flux …

This is from Lee Friedlander: The Little Screens by Saul Anton (2015):

In February 1963, Harper’s Bazaar published a four-page picture essay by Lee Friedlander titled ‘The Little Screens.’ Accompanied by a short text by Walker Evans, it comprises six black-and-white photographs of televisions that look, within the relatively small format of the magazine, like glowing postage stamps illuminating empty rooms. In each picture, a 1960s-era television set — made by companies today long gone, such as Andrea, Belmont, Crosley, Electromatic, Farnsworth, Kuba, National, Philco, Sightmaster and Viewtone — fills the space it occupies with cathode-ray light.

The splash-page image is of a sparsely furnished bedroom in what looks to be a modest middle-class American home. The viewer looks past the expanse of a neatly made bed and a curved wooden footboard to a small television sitting on a table against a wall. What immediately captures our attention in this image is the intensity of the face of a young child looking out at us from the television screen.

Friedlander_Screens01

Friedlander’s family narrative is extended by the two pictures that appear opposite the splash page.

… The story that Friedlander composes with these first three photographs is well known. The man-woman-child holy trinity of the nuclear family served as a foundation of post-War American life …

Friedlander_Screens02

… In the brief copy that accompanied ‘The Little Screens’ in Harper’s Bazaar, Evans presents Friedlander as unabashedly hostile to the newfangled apparatus: ‘The pictures on these pages are in effect deft, witty, spanking little poems of hate.’ Evans goes on to say that ‘the wan reflected light from home television boxes casts an unearthly pall over the quotidian objects and accouterments we all live with,’ underscoring the clinical and detached quality of the images. While this is certainly the case, the photographs themselves suggest that Friedlander’s conception of television did not end there — that in fact his photographs represent an evolving, playful and serious contemplation of the significance of the new technology.

…This is the story of the uncanny double of photography, a masked impersonator that is as seductive and amusing as it is sinister and dangerous.

In other words, The Little Screens does something remarkable: it considers and treats a ‘classic’ photographic theme — the family, the home, domesticity — but links it to a reflection on the implications of the emergence of television for photography and on the relation between the two media. What do we make of Friedlander’s encounter with television?

… That Friedlander was pointedly exploring what many believed to be photography’s natural and universal realism is evident in his choice of images for reproduction in ‘The Little Screens.’ Photographs of individuals on screen rather than of the people who inhabit middle-class interiors alongside their television sets appear perhaps as odd today as they did then. In fact, what is immediately striking in these images is the omission of direct, ongoing human presence in favor of the highly contradictory choice to record, and remember, the faces of people who appear flickering for brief seconds or minutes before disappearing into the flux of cathode rays — the electronic versions of Charles Baudelaire’s woman passer-by in nineteenth century Paris.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: