Lee Friedlander: Mannequin edited by Lee Friedlander. Fraenkel Gallery. Hardcover, 112 pages. $49.

Lee Friedlander, Tucson, 2011.

ALTHOUGH SCULPTED FROM PLASTIC instead of marble, mass-produced, and typically equipped with both arms, store-window mannequins share an aesthetic as well as a sociological lineage with the Venus de Milo. Depictions of feminine beauty whose aspect and proportion proffer benchmark ideals have been around a long time—no doubt many Athenian women in 100 BC compared themselves with Alexandros of Antioch’s handiwork, as do contemporary Americans with the shiny simulacra draped in the latest styles. Still, shopwindow dummies are hardly built for the ages; their machined uniformity highlights by contrast the fineness of the finery. Lee Friedlander looks to them to recoup some of their classical predecessors’ grandeur: In his latest collection of photographs, taken mostly on the sidewalks of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, he shoots mannequins through glass, allowing reflected buildings and streetscapes to form a striking overlay of hard angles against feminine forms. The figures are typically viewed up-angle (like goddesses) so that they appear to loom against backdrops of sizable masses of stone and brick. The resulting palimpsests restage the dummies, their sham gesticulation now imbued with fresh, even incisive drama among epic structures. Paradoxically, the hard-body perfection of the mannequin is softened and vivified by the stolid rigidity that floats behind the figures. Friedlander has always been attracted to the tricks of light and the provocative doublings that arise from reflective surfaces—rearview mirrors, glass walls, car windshields, and television sets recur throughout his career. Here he remains alert to the recombined ghosts that proliferate in the space between what’s real and what’s mere reflection (in the images above, store lamps hover seemingly outdoors like the model’s celestial guides), thus playing Pygmalion to these prefab Galateas by permitting them entry into that airy, vigorously mutational realm. —Albert Mobilio