Joel Sternfeld is an artist-photographer whose work is concerned with utopic and dystopic possibilities of the American experience.
Ever since the publication of his landmark study, American Prospects in 1987, his work has maintained conceptual and political aspects, while also being steeped in history, art history, landscape theory and attention to seasonal passage. It is a melancholic, spectacular, funny and profound portrait of America. The curator Kevin Moore has claimed that the work embodies the “synthetic culmination of so many photographic styles of the 1970s, incorporating the humor and social perspicacity of street photography with the detached restraint of New Topographics photographs and the pronounced formalism of works by so many late-decade colorists” (Kevin Moore, Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980).
The series On This Site (1996) examines violence in America while simultaneously raising significant epistemological questions about photographs as objects of knowledge. Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America (2006) “can be seen as a generous respite from the traumatic history in On This Site... It is a survey of American human socialization, alternative ways of living, of hopeful being” (Elin O’Hara Slavik, 2018).
All his subsequent work has sought to expand the narrative possibilities of still photography primarily through an authored text. All of his books and bodies of work converse with each other and may be read as a collective whole. His work represents a melding of time and place that serves to elucidate, honour, and warn. The images hold a certain urgency, as their histories survive solely through their photographic representation – they are an archive for the future.
Sternfeld is the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships and spent a year in Italy on a Rome Prize. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, where he holds the Noble Foundation Chair in Art and Cultural History. (joelsternfeld.net)
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