In mid-December Foam will present the first major retrospective exhibition in the Netherlands of the work of Joel Sternfeld (1944, New York), one of the pioneers of color photography. Foam will be showing more than one hundred photos from ten different series in an exhibition spanning two floors. A highlight is Sternfeld’s early work from the 1970s, which has never been previously exhibited. A large selection from famed series such as American Prospects, the result of his legendary journey through the United States, and Stranger Passing will also be on show. A constant factor in his work is his native land America, its inhabitants and the traces left by people on the landscape. With a subtle feeling for irony and an exceptional feeling for color, Sternfeld offers us an image of daily life in America over the last three decades.
Along with William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, Sternfeld saw to it that colour photography became a respected artistic medium in the 1970s. Until that time, colour was used widely in advertising and amateur photography, but was rarely seen in museums and galleries. Sternfeld was influenced by the color theory of the Bauhaus and by the work of William Eggleston, whose exhibition in MoMA in 1976 marked the official acceptance of colour photography in the art world.
A typical ‘street photographer’ style can be recognized in Sternfeld’s early and as yet unknown work, using a 35mm camera, to record everyday life in America. This work already contained the characteristics that made his later work so successful. In 1978, Joel Sternfeld began a long journey through the United States. For eight years he crisscrossed his homeland and recorded everything he encountered with his large-format camera. His investigation into the landscape and people moving within it resulted in the American Prospects series (1979-1983). In Stranger Passing (1987-2000) Sternfeld concentrated on people. He photographed them in an unambiguous way: from the same distance and looking directly into the camera. This series is a portrait of a society, comparable to the magnum opus of August Sander in the early twentieth century. Just as in American Prospect, there is evidence of a light absurdism as well as sympathy for those being portrayed.
For the On This Site series (1993-1996), Sternfeld photographed urban and rural locations which were at first glance unremarkable. In the accompanying text, however, it becomes clear that these were the locations of ‘crime passionnels’, racial violence and stabbings. The photos thus acquire an entirely different connotation. In Sweet Earth (1993-2005) Sternfeld shows alternative lifestyles and communities which have arisen in America over the past two centuries. He travelled to the homes and communities of people that do not fit into conventional lifestyles and instead pursue another way of life. In Oxbow Archive (2005-2007) Sternfeld depicts the effects of the changing seasons on the landscape and how human behaviour influences nature.
With the projects Treading on Kings (2001), on the G8 conference in Genoa, and When It Changed (2005), on the climate conference in Montreal, Sternfeld’s work is becoming more political and strident. These projects will be shown in slide shows.
Joel Sternfeld lives and works in New York. He has received a number of major awards during his career, such as the Citygroup Photography Prize (2004) and the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1978 and 1982). The work of Joel Sternfeld has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including the Museum of Modern Art and Luhring Augustine in New York. His work is included in major international collections such as the Folkwang Museum (Essen), Fotomuseum Winterthur, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), The Victoria and Albert Museum (London) and The Whitney Museum of American Art (New York). Since the start of his career, Sternfeld has considered photography books more important than exhibitions of his work. He has published eleven books in the past twenty years, which are now greatly sought after by collectors.
Joel Sternfeld Color photographs since 1970 appears at Foam from 16 December 2011 to 14 March 2012. Open daily from 10am to 6pm, Thurs/Fri 10am to 9pm. Ticket: € 8,50.