“With a photograph, you are left with the same modes of interpretation as you are with a book. You ask: 'What do we know about the author and their background? What do I know about the subject?'” – Joel Sternfeld
Born on this date in 1944, Sternfeld is noted for his large-format documentary pictures of the United States and for helping establish color photography as a respected artistic medium. With many works in the permanent collections of the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City and the Getty Center in Los Angeles, he has not only established himself as an artistic “force,” but also influenced a generation of color photographers.
And, his writing in support of his photographs have made him an important chronicler of his life and times. American Prospects, perhaps Sternfeld's most known book, explores the irony of human-altered landscapes in the United States. To make the book, Sternfeld photographed ordinary things, including unsuccessful towns and barren-looking landscapes. His book On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam is about violence in America. Sternfeld photographed sites of tragedies, supplemented by his thoughtful text about the events that happened there.
A longtime professor of photography at New York’s Sarah Lawrence University, his own books of photos and his essays on photography are part of the photographic teaching lexicon at many institutions in the U.S. and abroad. “A photographer must choose a palette just as painters choose theirs,” he said. And, I would add, as a writer chooses a topic on which to focus his or her words.
To see more of his works currently at MOMA, check out this website:
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