I found the first two photos interesting, but it was the third one of half a dog that really caught my eye. I think it's the best photo I've seen in the past several months. It has a loose snapshot quality but it's actually a very tight photo. Every element fits like a jigsaw. It's hard to plan a photo like that, harder to execute it, and harder yet to notice it on the contact sheet. If Freund was going to leave a photo behind as a marker in an old photo journal, a message to the future, that was a good one to choose.
So who was David Freund? He seemed to be something of a Friedlander-style formalist, someone who knew how to put shapes together, or at least did 40 years ago, but the only thing I knew about him were these three photos.
Digging online I discovered that he'd been featured in issue 14:3 of SPE's Exposure back in 1976. On my next visit to the library I tracked down the Freund issue. There were three of his photographs and a short introduction by none other than William Jenkins. The photographs showed the same strong jigsaw quality as the earlier three but the reproduction quality was terrible. There was no way I could make good scans.
I came home and did some more digging. I discovered that David Freund is not a wedding photographer in Australia. Nor is he a photographer in Edmonds, WA. No, the David Freund in question was a retired Professor Emeritus of Photography at Ramapo College of New Jersey. He'd chaired the art department and exhibited widely.
In 2007, he'd had a large retrospective exhibition at Ramapo. The accompanying essay by Steven Skopik can be found here but unfortunately all online images from the show are too small to give much detail. This one, for example, looks intriguing but at less than 300 pixels across it's hard to say for sure.
"Freund seems interested in noticing for us the world’s basic strangeness, typically by means of wry observation, telling juxtapositions, and provocative elisions," says Skopik. That description certainly fit everything I'd seen, but too much was being lost in translation. In Exposure and online the reproductions were too low quality to judge.
I contacted Freund. He was nice. He couldn't remember much about the dog photo except that it was shot on one of his annual visits to Maine. He offered to send a catalog from the Ramapo show. In the meantime, he pointed me to some of his images online here from a project shooting gas stations under an NEA grant. Although still on the smallish side, they're good enough jpgs to get a sense of how he sees. I like these two in particular.
Ironically the best Freund reproductions I can find online aren't by Freund at all. They're from his collection of Japanese Matchboxes. Like most photographers, Freund appears to be something of a packrat, collecting "razor blade wrappers, hairnet packages, hot pot holders and whiskers from his cats," according to Design Observer. The matchbox covers, like his photographs, show compositional flair.
Of course the Japanese have been at this a while. Stephen Shore in The Nature of Photographs makes a careful comparison between old Japanese woodblock prints and photographic composition. Maybe some of that design sense has carried over to matchboxes.
"Notice the leg jutting into the image..." writes Shore about the woodblock print, in a passage that might just as easily describe Freund's dog photo. "It typifies the sort of seemingly arbitrary cropping that occurs when the frame of a photograph slices through the world. While it doesn't relate to the unfolding drama of the picture, it does imply that this drama is a part of the larger world."
So I'm now awaiting Freund's catalog in the mail. I'm sure it will have better reproductions than anything I can find online. Perhaps I'll do a follow up post if it turns up anything interesting.