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Book of the Week: Selected by Blake Andrews

Book Of The Week The Mind and the Hand Photographs by Lee Friedlander Reviewed by Blake Andrews A slipcased set of six paperback books, The Mind and the Hand presents the photographer’s intimate portraits of six of his best friends taken over the past five decades. The subjects, each presented in their own separate volume, comprise a veritable who's who of one of America's most fertile periods in photography.
The Mind and the Hand. By Lee Friedlander.
The Mind and the Hand  
Photographs by Lee Friedlander

Eakins Press Foundation, 2019. In English.
240 pp., 191 illustrations, 8½x9".

Lee Friedlander turned 85 this summer. It's an age when most folks begin to slow down. Maybe a vacation would be in order? A day at the beach? Or a trip to the countryside? Nope. None of that for Lee Friedlander. Incredibly, his pace of production seems to be picking up in recent years. In the 32 months since I last reviewed one of his books for photo-eye —the wonderful monograph Western Landscapes— he has published six new titles. There are at least two more in the pipeline for this fall.

The subject at hand might count as six books on its own. It's the gorgeous box-set The Mind And The Hand, published this spring by Eakins Press. Tucked in a handsome clothbound slipcase is a set of six lean paperbacks, each one focusing on a close photographer friend of Lee. Friedlander kept high company, and these friends represent something of a “Who's Who” in late 20th-century photoland: Richard Benson, William Christenberry, William Eggleston, Walker Evans, John Szarkowski, and Garry Winogrand.

 William Christenberry, New York City, 2009. By Lee Friedlander.
Friedlander photographed each of them over the course of a few decades, a prodigious feat for any photographer. But for Friedlander, they were just six more subjects plucked from an inexhaustible, and irresistible, world. Six more boxes to fill in his seemingly boundless oeuvre. In fact, Friedlander's longevity can probably be measured against the lifespans of his colleagues. With one exception (Eggleston) he's outlived all the people in these books.

Of course, it's not quite true that these subjects were interchangeable with other material. These were close friends, presumably more meaningful than the utility poles, chain link, and car mirrors of other projects. At least one would hope so, although, who really knows? It's difficult to tell from the photographic approach, which for Friedlander rarely varies: direct, playful, bold, and ever-present. And the notoriously reticent Friedlander doesn't offer any opinion. Instead, each booklet is prefaced with a brief paragraph written by the subject.

Walker Evans, New York City, 1958. By Lee Friedlander.
The moments Friedlander captured with friends are sometimes quite intimate. There are snapshots of family dinners, weddings, and social gatherings, as well as more personal, private moments. Taken together, they are the small incidents that form the fabric of any deep relationship. In most friendships these moments pass unnoticed. The difference here is that Friedlander always had a camera handy. Always! And so now, some decades after the fact, we get to reap the harvest. It was worth the wait.

Garry Winogrand, New York City, 1979. By Lee Friedlander.
Within each small book, the photos slowly —generally chronologically— reveal their subject's personality. In many of the Eggleston photos he appears to be sloshed, or perhaps just tired. Christenberry looks invariably contemplative, often staring down as if in a moment of silent prayer. Richard Benson has a defiant gaze, as if asking the world, "Hey what're YOU looking at, buddy?" The life of the party was Winogrand. In nearly every photo he looks jolly and charming, with the wry grin of someone who's just remembered a good joke. For me, his book is the highlight, presenting at least a dozen unseen candids of the late master. Of course, photos can lie. Who knows how close any of these portraits are to the truth? Let's just say they hint strongly in certain directions.

Richard Benson, Memphis, Tennessee, 1990 (with John Benson). By Lee Friedlander.
Tying all the books together is the title, The Mind And The Hand, taken from the Richard Benson quotation inserted inside the case: "This remarkable thing that we carry around inside our heads is the most complicated known object that we are aware of…The hand does its work in response…and can outlive its maker. Even though the mind once stood behind it, the physical thing is all that remains." It's a nod to photography's two central ingredients, and also to the nonstop hourglass of life, and of friendships, and good books. Will the ticking clock ever catch up to Friedlander? Not in the foreseeable future.

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William Eggleston, Memphis, Tennessee, 1990. By Lee Friedlander.

Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at