Lee Friedlander’s new book is an open invitation to the biggest soirees of the past six decades. The publication, Parties, is an engaging and considered compilation of Lee’s photographs from fetes, feasts and festivities between 1956 and 2016.
The renowned photographer first established a name for himself in the late 1950s when he started snapping the social landscapes of America. He has since shot iconic photographs of celebrities like Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis and a naked Madonna. “No one is immune to Lee’s lens, whether it’s an elegant woman in an up-do at a party in Monaco or Andy Warhol with his camera in his hands at a party in 1971,” says the book’s editor, Tiffany Sprague, who worked closely with Lee and graphic designer Katy Homans on the project.
Parties is a celebration of celebrations. Bejewelled men in velvet two pieces chat away animatedly while masked couples sneak a secret halloween kiss. “It’s a trip down memory lane, even if it’s not our own trip. It’s fun to see how styles and hairdos change yet the elements of a good party don’t—dressing up, dancing, drinking and kissing,” Tiffany tells It’s Nice That. Lee’s publication is an archive of an ever-changing circle of party-goers that chronicles the fashion of the past half century.
Through his snapshot angles and intimate perspectives, Lee brings his viewer straight into the dances he documents. His images are informal, casual and could even pass off as vernacular photography. It is these qualities that make his art accessible to us. “There’s an element of voyeurism to the photos—even though we’d like to deny it, we all love to see what we’re not supposed to be seeing,” Tiffany goes on to say. The moments Lee captures aren’t the nights’ showstoppers, but rather the ordinary conversations and flirtations. In this way, he transforms the viewer into an invisible observer at New York’s most famous restaurants and dazzling nightclubs.
Lee’s photographs have no formula. His impulsive and spontaneous style makes for honest representations of the people he photographs. “Lee finds beauty in the banal and reflects that back to us. His photos make me stop and realise how visually rich our world is,” Tiffany reveals. Nor can she help but be amazed at Lee’s undiminished joy for life. “At 83, he still gets up every day and goes to the darkroom. Every time I see him he has his camera around his neck. He jokes that if he didn’t, there’d be nothing to hold his head onto his neck. I hope we’re all just as curious as he is at that age.”
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