Joel Sternfeld at FOAM
I just returned from seeing ‘Color Photographs since 1970’ in Amsterdam. The appeal for me was not only to get a look at some of the ‘American Prospects’ work in the flesh but to explore Sternfeld’s earlier 35mm images. While only a limited selection of photographs could be displayed due to space constraints, it was interesting to watch his development as he wandered through various styles which could be described as Egglestonian, Winograndish or Levittesque.
Indeed there were some pretty mediocre street photographs (using flash) of the type that many photographers make the mistake of getting into during at least one point in their careers. But even then, one could clearly discern a progression, an increasing sophistication and subtlety in his photographs. You see that too with many newish photographers; you tell yourself “wow, this person has an eye, I wonder what could happen in a few years?” The curse of potential, like the hopes placed on many a high-school baseball pitcher, is both a sad and wondrous thing. You see the photographer grow for a period, and then bump into a few walls, stuck at a particular plateau, and then that usually is the end of the story.
In Sternfeld’s case, he may or may not have run into his own share of obstacles as he began. But what is certain is that within 4-5 years of making most of these photographs, he began work on ‘American Prospects’. And that took things to a totally different kind of level…