Friday, May 16, 2008

Lee Friedlander

Took the day off today, supposedly to do some computer upgrading at home. I did get a little of that done, but actually spent most of the day out and about, ending up at the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) retrospective exhibit of Lee Friedlander's photography which ends on Sunday. I will get back to Friedlander a little later, but first a ramble on today's commercial exploits.

Hangin' with the Masses: I started at Kaiser Permanente getting phlebotomized, if I may. Considering the medical travails of some of my friends, I should hardly complain, but I don't like it. Still, Kaiser is awfully damned efficient, and I was in and out in a short while. I took a walk to the Curbside Cafe at California and Polk and had perfect brie, spinach, and sun-dried tomato omelette (see, Mom, I really am a Californian), then ambled back through the gathering record heat.

I need a coffee pot ... my 12-year veteran gave up the ghost Thursday morning ... so I headed to Mervyn's at Geary and Presidio where I picked my way through a thin crowd of lost 'burbanites ... why do these people live in the city; it always mystifies me? Everything was on sale, and they promised me another 15% off if I opened a credit card account. I have done that before for 10 or 20% off and then never used the card again ... Banana Republic, one of those Cargo-type places, and some other clothing store, who can remember which one.

I am a horrible shopper. I know what I need, I know what looks good on other people, but I haven't the vaguest idea what looks good on me. I gather my forces to pick something up, and then I see something else ... I get the jitters. What if I buy the wrong thing? I'm such a chump. I always figure the clerks are watching me and snickering ... I literally flush sometimes thinking what a fool I am. I can't even buy a pair of socks.

I did manage to get six pairs of socks ... buy a three-pack, get a second for 50% off. And I picked up a couple of different packages of underwear on the theory that the deal extended to underwear. But I wasn't sure, so I settled for a four pack of tight-fitting boxer thingies. Then I saw shoes, and I got real nervous. The last pair of shoes I bought started to squeak ... a 100 buck pair of New Balance shoes the right one of which has a light quack-like squeak as soon as I roll the ball of my foot. What is worse is that the squeak comes and goes, so I get optimistic that I have conquered the demon, and it dribbles back. This is just the kind of thing that makes me feel like chump when I shop. Someone at work tells me to complain, but I don't have the receipt, so I just act defeated and promise never to shop again.

Long story short, I ended up with 6 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of pyjama bottoms, 4 pairs of underwear, and a pair of brown shoes for $100. I will crow to the ladies at work on Monday. They enjoy my shopping idiocy stories.

But, ooops, I forgot the coffee pot, so I headed to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. (I lie a little ... I actually did shop for coffee pots at Mervyn's but I was so exhausted from picking socks and trying to decide whether my shoe size is 8 or 8 and a half ... I'm 55 years old, for chrissake, and I don't know my shoe size ... that I gave up after a few heart palpitations and headed to a store where I feel a little more comfortable.) Had a little parking lot episode in which an inordinately fat lady could not clear the spot I was trying to back into. Once she finally got her f.a. out of the way, she managed to beep her alarm-horn right in my face as I was getting out of the car ... all manners are lost in this society of "mee-mee-mee". Once inside, after long tormented consideration I managed to buy the 10-cup thermos-carafe Cuisinart product (my first Cuisinart, which makes me an underachieving fag here on the day after our big fag victory in the California Supreme Court). I got it home, unpacked the ecological disaster in which one participates whenever you buy a new widget, and read the directions. They referred to the "ladder" by which you measure the water you have poured. But I did not have a ladder, so I returned post-haste to BB&Y, fawlty product in hand. The humorless customer service lady of probably Philipino persuasion instructed me to get a new product which we promptly unraveled from its excess of packaging, whereupon we discovered that the directions were mistaken ... there is a plainly visible see-through strip whereby one measures the water, and there is no "ladder" in the 10-cup version ... the ladder is reserved for the more prestigious 12-cup version. So here is our poor customer service lady in an avalanche of plastic and styrofoam to no good end. I said, "I'm an idiot." No stir on her humorless face. So I add, "No, I really am an idiot." And I got a smile. And a polite suggestion that she would put the mess back together and I was free to go ... that is, leave ... now.

So home I went, and I tried the lovely product, and a fine cup of coffee was had. And thereupon, I headed to SFMOMA with my sainted ex to see Lee Friedlander.

Lee Friedlander: Looking at Friedlander reminds me of how the history of photography is so rapid. What he did in the 60s and 70s was radical and fresh, and it opened eyes and changed perspectives. But to do the same now in the same way would be a little hackneyed, at least in the "fine arts" area. I certainly enjoy photography that favors the accidental angle, "the American social landscape" (Friedlander, 1963), shadows and accident ... I like to think that I play in that area ... but a major exhibition of new photographs from someone doing what Friedlander did in the 60s would be corny.

Friedlander's black and white work is sensuous. He commands the texture in service to the oblique message. His photos of workers were a little more sentimental than his urban-scapes and rural-scapes in which his cold eye exposed the dialectics of living hot and temperamental and subject but innocent of a world whose human values are fading. But Friedlander manages to avoid being smug or condescending. The photography is crisp, it is a world we remember and about which, notwithstanding its bleakness, we can feel some nostalgia. That nostalgia, however thin, speaks to the depth of what he accomplished.

I noted, of course, the lack of cars despite Friedlander's inclusion of all manner of extraneous elements in his compositions. (There was a beautiful quote on this on the wall which I will type here if I find it.) There was a haunting picture of a lost Hollywood, California ... a quiet neighborhood with an empty street that has long since been drowned in the nightmare of monstrous vehicularity.

Friedlander's later work, especially since he went Hasselblad, is technically perfect but vastly less evocative. He once did for urbanscapes what an Ansel Adams did for nature. He is no match for the greats when he photographs shrubs. Nice stuff, though. They only had a few of his portraits of the great jazz and blues musicians of the 50s, and this is where he made his bread. Compelling photos, but it is his urbanscapes that startle and make one ponder what we have, what we had, and how much we can yet afford to lose.

I bought the book, as I am wont to do, and plan long slow sessions admiring the man's contribution.

By the by on Baseball: I think Magowan is stepping down because Selig told him to do it or he would hold his toesies to the fire. 66 (as in the years Magowan has had on the planet) is the new 55, and I don't buy his story. As I write this, he is rambling on about his 10 grandchildren ... whenever people starting burbling about children, you know that they are dissembling. I deeply respect Magowan notwithstanding that he felt that he owed Bonds that last year; that more than anything shows a loyalty that most eschew in favor of convenience. But more than anything, he gave us our ballpark, a miracle of architecture. It is his monument, and Selig can go to hell. Magowan, as he recounts it in an interview during the present game, states that baseball ... that is, Selig ... had all manner of objections to the peculiarities of the park. Of course ... because Selig sips his coffee decaf with extra creamer and nutrasweet. Magowan drank his coffee black and strong. A man among boys. We owe him a lot in this city.

Top photo by Arod of the new installation at SFMOMA. Subsequent photos by Lee Friedlander: Father Duffy and Times Square (1974); Memphis, Tennessee (2003); Aretha; Miles Davis (1969). Tonight's libation is a Negroni, with Junipero gin, Campari and Cinzano.

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