Long ago, while still a fairly young and impressionable photographer back in the 1970s, I first came across the work of Lee Friedlander in the pages of Creative Camera and was immediately a fan (though I’d probably seen some of his work without knowing who it was by in jazz magazines and on record sleeves earlier.)

So a few years later when the same magazine announced a book of his photographs, self-published by the Haywire Press, I immediately ordered it by post from them. Lee Friedlander: Photographs was published in 1978, but it took a very long time to arrive, as I think neither Haywire – Friedlander’s own publishing business or Creative Camera were the most reliable of companies, but eventually it came and I spent a great deal of time studying it’s pages. I’ve got several more Friedlander books since, but it probably remains my favourite, and is still available at a fairly reasonable price secondhand – probably less, allowing for inflation than I paid in 1978.

It wasn’t Friedlander and Haywire Press’s first book, they began with Self Portrait in 1970, and I remember looking through it a year or two later, perhaps at the Photographers Gallery. I didn’t buy it, partly because I thought I’d already seen the best of the work in magazines, but largely because I simply couldn’t afford it. I did buy the second edition around 1998.

The year before Self Portrait, Friedlander’s photographs had been published in a book paired with etchings by Jim Dine, Work From the Same House, a slim volume with 33 black and white plates. An image shows the two artists, lying on a bed looking towards the camera but dominated by the sole of a shoe in the foreground. And it states:

Biographical details of Lee Friedlander are almost non-existent. Aside from being one of America’s leading photographers, recently exhibiting work at the Museum of Modern Art, he was born in 1934 in Aberdeen, Washington and lives in New City [sic] New York with his wife and two children. He is said to be right handed.

There is now rather more information on line, but I still learnt quite a few things from the video of the NYPL talk.  Work From the Same House was published by Trigram Press on the Kings Road in London and printed in Chatham, Kent. I think I once had a copy (it sold for 21s – £1.05 – when published), but being so slim it’s hard to find!

Thanks to a report of the first interview given by Friedlander in 30 years reported in PDNPulse, How Lee Friedlander Edits His Photo Books, I now know why he called his self-publishing company Haywire Press. You can see and hear the whole event at the New York Public Library web site, though at around an hour and a half long I’ve not yet found time to sit an watch all the way through. Friedlander, sitting with a camera around his neck, is interviewed by his grandson, Giancarlo T. Roma, and there are certainly some interesting moments, though as he was born on 14th July 1934, there are a few minor lapses of memory, but he seems in great shape for someone coming up to 83.

Of course Friedlander has taken many pictures since that 1978 book, and I’ve bought a few more of his books (and got others as review copies), including Like a One-Eyed Cat and Letters from the People, though there have been some areas of his work that have left me cold. But he has given us so much, and I’ll certainly be wishing him a happy birthday on Friday.

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