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Riding shotgun: Lee Friedlander photographs from the car

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As Mr. Stainback puts it, "The work is never a one-liner." Friedlander's jumbled lines are like solo blasts from individual instruments that meld into a polyphonic ensemble. Often, so many lines crisscross that the picture plane appears chaotic. That's the point. Friedlander's version of roadside reality is diverse, tacky, and sprawling.

"Lee makes pictures out of a fundamental curiosity about how the world appears," Mr. Jurovics says. "He's presenting the unvarnished reality. This is the face of things, there for you to draw your own conclusions."

Those who know him insist Friedlander has no social agenda or overt message to peddle. "He's a looker," according to Janet Borden, director of Friedlander's New York gallery, Janet Borden, Inc. Even when the images portray trashy roadside signs or ramshackle houses, "It's more an observation," she says, "than a condemnation."

The photographs' apparent artlessness is deceiving. "He captures the wonder and excitement of the way all these elements get juxtaposed together," Mr. Brougher says. "The great photographers are able to simply photograph something right in front of you every day in a way that suddenly draws your attention to it."

Take, for example, a picture of a seafood shack in Fort Myers, Fla. The car door and side window frame a junky-looking restaurant whose facade sports American and Confederate flags, crab traps, and a large sculpture of a shark, its toothy mouth positioned to engulf a sign that says "LUNCH." The side-view mirror reflects another sign that says "CHARTER BOATS." The cluttered image breaks every rule of composition and subverts every cliché of "picturesque" photography.

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