The affair between mannequins and photographers goes back to photography’s early pioneers and stretches into the 21st century — including a new series by photography giant Lee Friedlander.
Friedlander, 77, flaunts his compositional sorcery in “Mannequin,” on view through June 23 at San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery.
Taken in the past three years in locales as varied as New York City; Tucson, Ariz.; and San Francisco, the images reveal the complexity of storefront photography.
In one mesmerizing, vertigo-inducing composition, a female mannequin stands proudly in a ruched evening dress. Her back arches, her hip juts, her chin reaches, and her neck is as long and lean as the vertiginous skyscrapers behind her. Busybody city-dwellers humming below remind the viewer that the image came from a real, not an imagined, world.
But sometimes it can be hard to tell. Friedlander manipulates the window’s reflection playfully. A torso vanishes into a building, a head dissipates into clouds, a palm tree bursts through a head and a mass of wire coat hangers (an ingenious window display) floats between a suited dummy and the cityscape behind her.
Friedlander turns his camera in one direction and captures multiple worlds: the street, environmental elements and the mannequin’s cloistered, commercial sphere.
In one image, three dolls are positively domineering in belted black skirt suits and large sunglasses. Framed by chandeliers, everything about them affirms luxury, status and power-commerce as kingdom.
In today’s digital age, it should be noted that Friedlander created these densely packed, imaginative layers without Photoshop and with a handheld 35 mm camera, as he did in his early career in the 1950s, before he gained attention with the exhibition “New Documents” at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1967.
The subject of more than 40 books — and with photographs in collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art — Friedlander has a firm place in the canon of great American photographers, next to Robert Frank and Walker Evans, who inspired and influenced him.
IF YOU GO
Where: Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary St., S.F.
When: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes June 23
Contact: (415) 981-2661, www.fraenkelgallery.com