Reflections: Lee Friedlander

In light of Lee Friedlander's exhibition at the Newcomb Art Gallery, photographer and gallerist Susan Sherrick reflects on collecting and living with one of the artist's images.

Lee Friedlander, Second Liners at Mardi Gras, 1957. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy the William Ransom Hogan Archive of New Orleans Jazz, Tulane University.

When I first started working at Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco in 2007, I was told that Lee Friedlander offered a deal to all staff buying their first photograph. We could select any print as long as it was modern, meaning those Lee had printed recently. Like most things in my life, I moved quickly and within minutes had made a firm decision. From what I was told, most of the staff pored over the books for some time, however, I knew which image I wanted from the moment I saw it. I was supposed to call Lee, but, too nervous, I emailed him first. When he phoned a couple of days later asking for me, I was beside myself.

I came to realize over the three and a half years I worked at Fraenkel that any time Lee called each member of the staff would get excited in his or her own way. My first conversation with Lee was brief: I told him which photograph I wanted and why. He thanked me and I thanked him. My print arrived in the next shipment: Young Tuxedo Brass Band, New Orleans, 1959.

It would be another few years before I even thought of moving to New Orleans, but that image always reminded me of my first trip. In November 1994, I spent Thanksgiving in the city with my family. My brother had just passed away that August, and my mom refused to stay home and cook a holiday dinner. So we packed our bags, escaping the Pennsylvania cold a still-wounded flock, and headed south. As we were walking into Commander's Palace on Thanksgiving Day, a brass band was making its way into Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. I have never forgotten the sound of the music I heard that day. It was so familiar and like nothing I’d ever heard before. Haunting and sad, but hopeful too. Today, the photograph has a prominent place in my living room in New Orleans right next to my turntable, and when I look at it—from the first time I saw it and every day since—I can still hear that music.

Lee Friedlander, Eureka Brass Band, no date. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy the William Ransom Hogan Archive of New Orleans Jazz, Tulane University.

Editor's Note

“Jazz People: New Orleans Portraits by Lee Friedlander” on view through October 9, 2011 at the Newcomb Art Gallery at Tulane University, New Orleans.