Unsentimental Song

Bookshops report Marti Friedlander’s Self Portrait is still flying out the doors. No wonder, this is a book to buy and treasure. (Metro published an extract and photographs from it in November, along with a new portrait we commissioned from Jane Ussher). The significance of Friedlander’s portfolio is a matter of cultural record, and all of her most famous photographs feature here, from the indelible Kuia series to Mr and Mrs Coppell in Mt Eden. It’s the unexpected delights that stay with you, though. Well known subjects as you don’t normally see them: a queenly young Kiri Te Kanawa, draped in ermine fur on a beach in Northland; Hamish Keith in his hallway looking alarmingly virile, a McCahon behind him and his wicked gaze every bit as smouldering as the cigarette he’s holding. Friedlander tells her life story alongside the photos in prose that is both effective and unsentimental. It’s charming, and entertaining, and at certain moments devastating, especially in the recollection of her early years in London orphanages. Her childhood appears to have been composed of hope and loneliness in equal measure. In sum, here’s a book whose words and images sing together.

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