Selected works from "American prospects"
May 30 - July 26, 2012
Mc Lean, Virginia, December 1978, dye transfer print
With Selected works from “American Prospects”, Photographica FineArt Gallery presents a selection of approximately thirty vintage pictures taken from Joel Sternfeld’s first and most essential publication: American Prospects.
This is a rare opportunity to see some of the most important works of 20th-century American photography gathered together in one exhibition.
American photographers were the first to introduce a new concept of image. It was an almost natural artistic evolution, which began with the perfectly perspective vision of the first American landscape photographers of the 1800s, such as Timothy O’Sullivan and Carleton Watkins, and then continued with the majestic views of Ansel Adams, before fusing with Robert Frank’s stark yet authentic social conscience – which was anticipated between the two wars by Walker Evans – of America in the 1950s and the subsequent observations by Winogrand and Friedlander.
In the early 1970s, William Eggleston, closely followed by several other artists including Steven Shore, Joel Sternfeld, William Christianberry, and Joel Meyerowitz, further translated the idea of the landscape – with the use of Extachrome, the famous invertible colour film by Kodak – from a mere perspective shot of the landscape into a “real” realisation of the use of the territory, inasmuch as it is animated by the active presence of man. A similar and parallel thing occurred, though perhaps in a more aseptic manner, with other photographers from the “New Topographic” who, while keeping faith with the black and white image, tended to emphasise the dramatic effects of the ecological abuse of the landscape.
In 1987, the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston dedicated a major exhibition, entitled “American Beauty in Atypical Places”, to Joel Sternfeld and his works in colour on the American vision, while Times Books published “American Prospects” as a corollary to the exhibition.
Joel Sternfeld’s photographs seem to raise the question of “apparent” and “real” in the existence of the average American, who lives far from the big city and who is juxtaposed with the different perspective of the vastness of the territory. In this way, Sternfeld provides an ironic view of the American man; his pictures seem so unreal and original that they could have been taken by a visitor from another world. Pictures taken with surreal irony; pictures which lean towards the appearance of events, rather than towards the underlying structure and which describe a particular American life; pictures which describe a different present, not so much that of a society in the full fervour of industrialisation (we are in the 1980s) but a society which already feels post-industrial, a consumerist and narcissistic society, where the growing unemployment masquerades as free time; a society oriented towards having all comforts and devoted to technology which involves the territory, forcing the latter into coexistence and damaging it in such a shocking way that the territory often seems to become normal, the fruit of a genetic mutation.
American Prospects (1987) is Sternfeld’s most famous book, in which he explores the irony of human resources juxtaposed with American landscapes altered by man. To present the book, Sternfeld photographed unusual and banal things, including the cities that never were and landscapes with an apparently sterile appearance.
From 1992, Campagna Romana, the Countryside of Ancient Rome, is a modern revisitation of the Rome of Giacomo Caneva and the photographic artists of the Roman School of 1850.
In 1997, On this side: Landscape in Memoriam, regards violence in America. Sternfeld photographed the sites of recent tragedies. Next to each photo, we find text describing the events that occurred in those places. Hart Island, from 1998, represents his work carried out in collaboration with Melinda Hunt, between 1991 and 1998, to document the New York City cemetery on Hart Island.