Born in England to Russian Jewish immigrants, from the age of three she was raised in orphanages. in 1958. As an outsider she found herself in a strange land, and began taking photographs to document and understand the country she had adopted.
Marti Friedlander felt constrained by what she saw as New Zealand's conservativism compared to the lifestyle she had enjoyed, and documented and challenged this in her photography and social activism. Her work involved collaboration with Michael King while photographing Maori women and moko.
Friedlander has had exhibitions at a number of galleries. She was admitted as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1998, and was the subject of a documentary by Shirley Horrocks entitled Marti: the Passionate Eye.