Bondo Wyszpolski

Anthony Friedkin and his harvest of fine art photography

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Edward James Olmos, Anthony Friedkin

Edward James Olmos, Zoot Suit, Mark Taper Forum. Photo by Anthony Friedkin

Cream of the Crop

In 2003, Anthony Friedkin revisited a body of work that spanned over 30 years, picked out 64 images, and published them as Timekeeper.

“The earliest photo goes back to 1967 or ’66,” he says, “and the latest photo was right on the cusp of 2003.”

Images from the book are on view through Feb. 23 at Gallery 478 in San Pedro, but this is the day to go and see them because the First Thursday Art Walk is taking place tonight between 6 and 9 p.m. and there are other galleries to step into as well and food trucks ready to take your order at this very moment.

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Anthony Friedkin photographer

Anthony Friedkin. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

Friedkin’s current show, however, is titled “Timekeeper + 9.” Why is that?

“The book came out in 2003,” Friedkin says; “we’re now in 2012. We’ve added nine years.” Translation: the artist hasn’t stopped shooting, and has slipped in a few works he’s created since Timekeeper was printed.

Telling a story

Anthony Friedkin is nationally recognized and, for starters, his photographs are in the permanent collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. Three of his images were on view at the Huntington Library in “This Side of Paradise” and currently he has two works in the “In Focus:Los Angeles” exhibition at the Getty Center. Although he has traveled the country and the world, he has maintained a modest residence on Twelfth Street in Santa Monica for nearly 40 years. It’s cramped and artfully disordered, and while everything breathes of creative mayhem there’s also a method to the madness.

Clockwork Malibu, Rick Dano on P.C.H., Malibu. Photo by Anthony Friedkin

Clockwork Malibu, Rick Dano on P.C.H., Malibu. Photo by Anthony Friedkin

If we want to take a few seconds and pigeonhole Friedkin, we might say he’s a photo-essayist in the sense of all the old Life Magazine photographers of the 1940s and ‘50s. The only one he mentions by name is W. Eugene Smith, but that’s enough to lead us to think of Margaret Bourke-White and Dorothea Lange and perhaps some of the photographers in the Getty’s recent “Engaged Observers” exhibition such as Mary Ellen Mark, Sebastião Salgado, James Nachtwey, and Leonard Freed.

In Friedkin’s case, he has published several photo essays, five major ones I believe, beginning with his documenting the gay communities of Los Angeles, West Hollywood, and San Francisco in 1969, ’70, and ’71. The others, in no particular order, explored New York City brothels, the ocean and surf,Beverly Hills, and Hollywood in its role as the maker of dreams. That’s admittedly pretty general, and maybe I can elaborate a little bit on one or two of them as I go along.

Anthony Friedkin fine art photography

Sculpted Wave, Hermosa Beach, California. Photo by Anthony Friedkin

Timekeeper, the book, draws heavily from each of these series. Friedkin carefully selected what he considered the best or the most representative of what he’d shot. Since the images were being taken out of their original context, the sequencing of images was crucial.

“The criteria for the book was that every photograph was a singular work of art on its own, that if you were just anywhere and looked at the picture it would catch your attention – the way it was composed, the unusualness of it or the way the light was in it, or the way the people were relating to one another in it.”

Anthony Friedkin Paris Stairway

Paris Stairway, France. PHOTO BY ANTHONY FRIEDKIN

Individually, then, each image met Friedkin’s initial criteria, but now they also had to sing in the same choir.

“When I started to do the editing I essentially picked certain themes,” which meant a sequence of six to ten images that shared an idea or feeling. “One passage would be about eroticism,” he says, “so I would deal with sexuality, both male and female. But whether it was a prostitute in New York City or one of my young surfer friends on the highway inMalibu, both of them had kind of an energy and an aura of sexuality and eroticism highly charged. So then I could put those images together because they kind of worked with one another even though they weren’t shot the same way.”

Back to each photograph as a work of art unto itself.

“It’s not a work of art because of the subject matter,” Friedkin says, “it’s a work of art because of the way it was seen and the moment that was captured, and how it was immortalized and hopefully how the story was revealed.

“Because in a sense,” he continues, “there is no moment; that moment is gone as soon as you think of it – it’s already gone. But in a photograph you can extend it, you can kind of preserve it. It’s a way of saying, ‘Oh, yes, moments are fleeting, but.’ With photography’s ability to capture time and place, you can seize upon a moment, capture it, and then later on investigate its revelations, artistically, spiritually, culturally, socially, every which way.”

“I love the idea of using the camera as a means of personal discovery.” – Anthony Friedkin

This probably applies to everything that Friedkin has shot, but there’s one specific body of work that many who reside in the Beach Cities can identify with. It’s a series, he says, “that is very dear to my heart that just deals with waves. I’m a life-long surfer and someone who loves the ocean because I grew up here in Southern California and I started going into the ocean as a child.”

Or, as he phrases it in Timekeeper: “When I’m in the water, I feel like I’m connecting to something so mighty and so primordial it’s beyond description. All the mysteries of life and death, light and darkness, space and time, are to be found there.”

“I look at the waves as liquid sculpture,” he adds, “moving with ethereal beauty as they move from the horizon line on the ocean up to the point where they crest and break on the shore and roll in. I’ve tried to artistically document their magnificence and their power and their beauty. The whole energy of the ocean in general is something I’m interested in as an artist to explore.”

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