The new exhibit “Timekeeper+9″ in San Pedro shows the range of renowned photographer Anthony Friedkin's work since 1969. The 43 photographs are small by contemporary standards — many of the full-frame prints from 35mm film are 8″ x 12” — but their impact is large.
Friedkin's rich black-and-white images capture savage beauty. Things are off kilter. There is a sense of unease, even danger, in the dark, crashing ocean waves and portraits of prostitutes, prisoners and other people on the edge. The mystery and depth of the pictures caught the attention of curators, not to mention the fact that Friedkin's works are in the permanent collections of the Getty, LACMA and the Modern Art museums of New York and San Francisco.
The ocean holds a mystical draw for Friedkin, a surfer and photographer for more than 45 years. He photographs both from the shore and in among the waves.
“The sound of a wave breaking underwater is like the clamor of creation itself: loud, thunderous, yet strangely harmonic and soothing,” he has said.
The massive walls of water, deep black glinting with glassy white highlights, bear a terrifying power, defying the abstract beauty of the composition.
Assignments shooting movie stills gave Friedkin access to the surreal world of Hollywood, but his personal explorations of groups on the margins of society have produced his most affecting work. As an emerging photojournalist in his late teens, an awareness of injustice toward gays and the pressure they felt to suppress their identities prompted his “Gay Essay” series, which documented the communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1969 and 1970. Later the same empathy for those on the fringes of society led him to spend time in New York bordellos and California prisons, getting to know the inhabitants before revealing them in portraits.
Candy's Reflection (NYC 1992) is dominated by a woman's long thighs and slim buttocks visible through mesh panties. But her world is cockeyed. Her legs slash diagonally across the frame. Her couch tilts, ready to slide out of the picture, and her small face in the mirror is shadowed with doubt.
The four shirtless convicts at Folsom Prison, on the other hand, betray no self-doubt. With Pacific Standard Time shows around town reminding us of L.A.'s art history, the prisoners' macho posturing brings to mind Patricia Faure's famous shot of Ed Kienholz, Ed Moses and the rest of the Ferus Gallery gang in 1958. But as Friedkin told me, “Artists are in a sense criminals, because they are breaking rules.”
“Timekeeper+9” is at Gallery 478, 478 W. Seventh St., San Pedro, through Feb. 23. Gallery hours are Monday – Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment.