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Yale University Acquires Photographer Lee Friedlander’s Archive and Master Prints

The Yale University Art Gallery and Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library together have acquired the Lee Friedlander Archive, which includes 2,000 of the photographer’s master prints as well as negatives, working prints, letters, books and other articles cataloging his creative process and output.

With this acquisition, Yale University becomes home to the largest archive of material produced by one of America’s most celebrated and prolific photographers.

“We have been particularly pleased to work so closely with the Beinecke Library to secure this monumental acquisition,” notes Jock Reynolds, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Yale University Art Gallery. “Together, the Friedlander Archive and master prints form an unmatched resource for those interested in the life and work of one of photography’s most ambitious masters.”

Selected from Friedlander’s past two decades of work, the master prints—1,800 of which will reside at the Yale Art Gallery—include examples of every image published in Friedlander’s monographs of new work since 1996. The archive, housed at the Beinecke along with a smaller group of master prints of Western landscapes, includes all of the photographer’s negatives, contact sheets, journals, monographs, correspondence, books featuring his images and preliminary work prints corresponding to Yale’s master prints.

Born in 1934 in Aberdeen, Washington, Friedlander began his deep engagement with photography as a teenager. He studied photography at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and moved to New York in the mid-1950s to begin his career taking portraits of jazz musicians for record covers. In the 1960s, he emerged as one of the leading “street” photographers of his time, influenced by such pioneers of the genre as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Eugène Atget and Garry Winogrand. His signature black-and-white images from this period often explore social and cultural subjects through their reflection on shiny surfaces—storefront windows, rear-view car mirrors and TV screens, among them— and helped to broaden public appreciation of the compelling power of photography as an art form.

Since 1970, Friedlander has also directed his creative energies to the printed page, conceiving and supervising the production of over 30 distinct monographs to date.

Among other honors, he has been the recipient of multiple Guggenheim Fellowships, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. Friedlander received an honorary doctorate from Yale in 2004, and his work was the subject of a major traveling retrospective organized by the Museum of Modern Art in 2005.

“Friedlander’s pictures from the past two decades playfully exploit the medium’s still-thrilling ability to create fresh and unexpected relationships out of the things we see every day,” observes Joshua Chuang, the Yale Art Gallery’s assistant curator of photographs. “Even if you think you’ve seen it all, they make it easy to become ecstatic about the possibilities of photography all over again.”

At the core of the Beinecke’s Friedlander Archive are more than 40,000 rolls of film and associated contact sheets representing the artist’s creative output since the mid-1950s, including his wide-ranging portrait, landscape and still-life work. Also included are a vast array of the photographer’s preliminary explorations in the darkroom, materials that demonstrate the artist’s rigorous editing and proofing process from negative to finished print.

“We are excited that Friedlander’s work will join the library’s extensive collections of works by American photographers, including Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan, Alfred Stieglitz, Carl Van Vechten, David Plowden, Carl Mydans, and Eve Arnold, and pleased that we could collaborate with the gallery to create an unprecedented resource for scholarship about one of America’s foremost visual artists,” notes George Miles, the William Robertson Coe Curator of the Collection of Western Americana at the Beinecke Library.

Founded in 1832, the Yale University Art Gallery has more than 185,000 objects in its collections, spanning the globe and ranging in date from ancient times to the present. In addition to its celebrated collections of American paintings and decorative arts, the gallery is noted for its important holdings of Greek and Roman art, early Italian paintings, later European art, Asian art, African art, art of the ancient Americas, and Impressionist, modern and contemporary works.

The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is Yale University's principal repository for literary papers and for early manuscripts and rare books in the fields of literature, theology, history and the natural sciences. In addition to its general collection of rare books and manuscripts, the library houses the Yale Collection of American Literature, the Yale Collection of German Literature, the Yale Collection of Western Americana, and the Osborn Collection.