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'America By Car': A Case For Drive-By Shooting

by Claire O'Neill
Sep 2, 2010

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"It's an anywhere road for anybody anyhow."
— Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Lee Friedlander is touted as one of America's greatest living photographers. He has been shooting most of his life, which began in 1934; his photos appeared in groundbreaking fine art exhibitions in the 1960s and '70s. On the whole, his street scenes and cluttered landscapes are humorous, sarcastic and chaotic.

Now 76 years old, Friedlander could be slowing down. But his latest series suggests the opposite. America By Car, opening at the Whitney Museum of American Art this weekend, is about freedom and velocity — about going nowhere in particular but getting somewhere — a proverbial example of the journey being the reward. Friedlander may be getting on in years, but this just might be his most dynamic and thematic project yet.

The car windows frame cow herds, neon road signs, gawking pedestrians. The mirrors reflect telephone poles, nondescript buildings and, in some cases, Friedlander's camera. America whizzes by, photo after photo, totally unremarkable but somehow still fascinating. According to the exhibition description, Friedlander specified that the 193 photos be densely clustered to evoke "the sensory overload commonly experienced by American drivers." It's controlled chaos, captured from behind the wheel.

If Jack Kerouac was right in saying "the road is life," then Lee Friedlander is thriving.

You can see more photos in this video (if you can get over the annoying whistling).

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