Cherry Blossom Time in Japan.  Photographs by Lee Friedlander.
Cherry Blossom Time in Japan.  booktease preview.

Cherry Blossom Time in Japan.

Photographs by Lee Friedlander.
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, 2006. 156 pp., 73 b&w illustrations, 8x11".

The colors of Lee Friedlander's latest monograph, Cherry Blossom Time in Japan, are cherry blossom pink and spring leaf green-on lollipop neon steroids. It is impossible not to want to lick the cover. Inside, the beauty of the black-and-white images lulls the viewer into a more contemplative state of mind. Oddly, this jarring juxtaposition works. The book is a likely candidate for a design award. Behind the green cover with the pink Japanese characters all the horizontal images are gathered. Flip the book up and over, and behind the pink cover with the green characters are all the vertical images. The two sections of the book are separated by a single page; green on one side and pink on the other. The only text, appropriately, is the list of plates, a brief but eloquent statement by the artist and a lovely poem in both English and Japanese that is as relevant today as it was when it was written in the ninth century:

Were there no cherry-blossoms In this world of ours, The hearts of men in spring Might know serenity.

This is a book designed to elevate to enlightenment an intimate experience of the sumptuous images of a well-known and prolific artist. Unlike his other books that similarly explore the hypnotic depth that can be contained in a flat picture plane (The Desert Seen, Apples and Olives, and Sticks & Stones), Friedlander's familiar intruding shadow is nowhere to be found in these images. Rather, he combines that Friedlander sensibility for compressing chaotic nature into formal and contained abstract space with a less intrusive Zen-like sensibility. Friedlander's images are evocative of Japanese pen-and-ink scroll paintings. Tree branches become calligraphy strokes. Reflections of cherry trees in water where cherry blossoms float delicately on the surface over swimming Koi fish create a delicate shimmering depth. Floating, the reader is invited into the beautiful serenity of the Japanese garden only to be disturbed in the next image by the wild overgrowth of nature left unattended. MARY ANNE REDDING

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