The current retrospective of photographer Joel Sternfeld’s work at Berlin’s C/O is a must-see, better not seen amidst the throngs of last Friday’s hugely successful opening night. There’s nothing flashy about his disquieting depiction of America, despite the provocative nature of some of his subjects. Sober in composition and palette, Sternfeld’s images extend a much more sly invitation. Initial impressions can be deceiving. This is the land of self-invention. It’s up to you to dig up ‘truth’. And there’s plenty to take in. So take your time…
A pioneer of color in fine art photography, Sternfeld uses it sparingly to draw out a detail, make a connection or nuance a scene, never as a crutch. One of the best known images from his “American Prospects” series (the Pumpkin Farm Fire) showcases this mastery to great effect. Other urban landscapes appear drained of life’s very blood. Wreckage abounds. We’re placed at a distance, far enough away to see the big picture. Does that make us responsible?
The large-scale portraits of his “Stranger Passing” series bring us up close. He wields color just as successfully here. See the matching pinks in “A Woman Out Shopping With Her Pet Rabbit” or the rage red sneakers on “A Homeless Man With His Bedding.” Who are these people? What’s their story? Baby-faced interns on Wall Street? Irony often comes into play, but Sternfeld preserves his documentarian stance, refusing to insert himself in obvious ways or provide ready answers.
The juxtaposition of image and text attain a whole other level in his “On This Site” series, which is situated a little out of the way: to the far right of the top floor. Seminal American history is on display here. Then again, is it? Sternfeld photographed the Memphis motel balcony where Martin Luther King was assassinated, the exact Dallas movie theater chair in which Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested, and the Central Park tree under which a teenage girl was raped and murdered in the 80s Preppy Killer case, amongst other notable locations. The images appear innocuous, non-descript at first. Until one reads the accompanying text, then everything changes.
What we see, why and how we interpret it: this is what Sternfeld constantly encourages us to consider. His impressive body of work is now accessible under one roof at C/O Berlin.
Don’t miss it!
Till January 13, 2013.
At C/O Berlin
Oranienburger Str 35/36
Daily 11 – 20hr.
Entry fee 10 Euros/ 5 if discounted.