Benno Friedman Times Square Photographs 1970 Unsung Hero of Photography Vintage Sleaze
A sophisticated artist and photographer who will probably ask me to take these photographs down when he finds them (and if so I will be happy to) but as I am choosing him to be the fourth "Unsung Hero of Photography" (along Wil Blanche, Russ Meyer and Bunny Yeager) maybe he will permit them to stay here a while. Benno Friedman is not a vintage sleaze photographer by any means, and his inclusion here is only for two reasons. One, his splendid, if tiny, photo essay on the sleazy underbelly of New York City Times Square and Sex Shops along 42nd Street which he shot for Venture Magazine way back in 1970. They are thus buried...Venture is a defunct magazine which was a strange mixture of art and travel that, for some curious reason, put a 3-D cover on each issue! The technique was called "Xograph" and you've likely seen the technique on other things...like lenticular toys and such.
Benno was then a very young man, and working seemingly as a journeyman photographer. He did a considerable amount of commercial work but it was all far above the norm. The images I have seen which he has done since this are remarkable...and although he is well-published and active (including work in the Whitney Biennial, the pinnacle as far as I am concerned) with a considerable and impressive resume, these photos which document a pre-Disney deuce are as such a little prize. Maybe if he sees this post Mr. Friedman will dig out the work and do a show. He has also contributed much to photographic theory and art...there are contributions to numerous photography sources in which Friedman adds to the field.
The other reason I am including his work here is a quote he provided to an essay from a recent show at Boston University. Not one to rest on his darkroom laurels, Mr. Friedman is actively digitizing his work and is still creating vital and impressive photos with new technology. Friedman says in the 2009 exhibition essay from the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University “Software is today's magic wand, allowing all of us to become wizards …[but] what is a photograph? Instead of eliminating all of the scratches and dust marks on a photograph, one could choose to eliminate everything but the scratches and dust marks; the result would be no less a photograph.” Sums up my own feelings about photographs...they are physical objects with imperfections, and those "dust marks and scratches" which provide surface to the flat object are important. Bravo Benno!
(A graduate of Brandeis University, Friedman has both worked as a commercial photographer and shown at the Whitney Biennial. Exhibited extensively, Friedman's work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY; National Museum of American Art in Washington, DC; and the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, among others. His most recent solo exhibition, Real Photos, Visual Queries, was on display at the Suffolk University Art Gallery at the New England School of Art and Design in Boston)
Photographs taken from the article "New York...Should This Town be Rated X?" by Saul Braun, Venture Magazine November 1970. Photographs by Benno Friedman, all rights the artist.