Book Review: Chain Link by Lee Friedlander
By Scarlett Davis
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don't fence me in
The lyrics above are from the song “Don’t Fence Me In,” made famous by Cole Porter, which Lee Friedlander makes reference to at the end of his monograph Chain Link. The softness conveyed by the lyrics is nicely juxtaposed by the very literal and figurative function of a fence, which is to act as a barrier. With the fence, feelings of isolation, segregation, and division are evoked along with looming danger, as for what other purpose does society necessitate a need for a barricade? Friedlander’s images then pose the question: a barrier to what and from whom, and why?
Enthusiasts of Friedlander will be pleased to note that the collection employs the photographer’s familiar motifs of buildings, signs, pick-up trucks, and of course fences all cleverly cloaked in issues of race, sex, religion, and nature. All calculated, the subjects behind the fence range from animals (both real and artificial), people, churches, construction sites, monuments, and statues.
Friedlander has made his distinguished career of weaving together elements of ordinary images in such way that evokes feelings of the uncanny, but also with an attention to great wit and complexity. Every image in Chain Link is carefully planned with a clear scene depicted. Friedlander is a master; he relishes in his play with shadows and light, highlighted by the diamond geometric zig zag prism made possible by the structure of the fence.
It is almost as important to note the images with fully fleshed fences versus the images of broken fences, along with the deeper meaning. In some instances, the fence appears like delicate lace, almost opaque with the backdrop peeking behind it. In other cases, the fence is more of a droll presence, boldly depicted and central to the photo, begging you to make of it what you will. Chain Link is a poignant delve into the wonderful idiosyncrasies that make up the foundations of our lives. We live in a world of fears, often of our making, with a tendency to categorize; preferring boxes, walls, and fences to the unknown. Friedlander suggest sometimes it is best to just live footloose and fancy free.
Chain Link is published by Steidl and is available for purchase.