Photographer Joel Sternfeld’s first solo exhibition in the UK in over a decade offers a window into American life from 1977 to 1988.
We all have an image of America in our heads; whether it’s one of excessive consumption or a vast untamed wilderness, there are as many sides to the United States as there are people inhabiting its lands. At this particularly divisive time, we lament upon the land of the free and what it means to be an American in the modern era. Looking past Hollywood and the idyllic image that is exported to us, we can see the real side of the U.S., one that forgoes the glitz in favour of guts.
This exploration into the ‘real’ America is the subject of veteran photographer Joel Sternfeld’s first solo UK exhibition in 15 years, Colour Photographs 1977-1988, set to be displayed at Beetles + Huxley in London this month.
With 30 vintage dye transfer and chromogenic prints, the free exhibition pulls work from Sternfeld’s extensive portfolio, focusing on images from one of his most famous works American Prospects, first displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, before being published under the same name back in 1987.
The exhibition’s 30 prints, including some previously unseen ones, were taken during Sternfeld’s 11 years of travelling through the country with an 8 x 10 inch camera, highlighting the intriguing character of the U.S. and the people that call it home.
Highly regarded as one of the most influential pieces of American photography from this period, American Prospects looks at the land of the free with a subtle and ironic sense of humour, shining a unique light onto the socio-economic challenges faced in many of the country’s less prosperous regions.
You can see Sternfeld’s ironic prepositions seep through in McLean, Virginia, December 1978, which shows a firefighter buying pumpkins while a house burns in the background. Although it looks bad, this was in fact a training exercise, and is a great example of Sternfeld’s exploration into the debate of photographic truth.
In these unstable and problematic times for the United States, Sternfeld’s photography helps us to gauge some of the historical factors that continue to influence the country today, with a stark honesty that is seldom found when we think about the home of the brave.
Joel Sternfeld: Colour Photographs 1977 – 1988 is open at Beetles + Huxley from 26 January to 18 February 2016.