About the Photographer
American, b. 1944
It's been very fashionable to focus on the weakness and the banality of America, but what I wanted to say is that it's also a very exciting and fascinating place. – Joel Sternfeld, 1987
Joel Sternfeld's projects can perhaps be divided into two general groups: site-specific landscapes somehow connected to human presence (though people are rarely present in them) and shot during distinct periods of time, and a more ranging, long-term examination of the United States accomplished largely by photographing Americans contextualized by their environments. Canyon County, California and A Man on the banks of the Mississippi, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, August 1985 both belong to the latter group and, characteristic of Sternfeld's portraits, were shot out of doors at a formal distance that does not crop any part of the subject's body. The large format 8 x 10 view camera Sternfeld employs may be part of the reason for that formality, but the camera's more obvious function is to capture and render the rich textures and telling details that draw Sternfeld to a particular scene. Sternfeld's sense of irony comes through in the way these subjects are dressed as if to color-coordinate with their surroundings, while the darkness of his humor is suggested by their unsettling expressions.
Joel Sternfeld was born in New York on June 30, 1944. He holds a BA from Dartmourth College, Hanover, New Hampshire (1965), and began photographing in color in 1970. He is the recipient of two Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowships (1978 and 1982), a National Endowment for the Arts Photographers Fellowship (1980), and the Prix de Rome (1990-91). Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at the Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among others. His photographs are also in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; Seattle Art Museum; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Sternfeld has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York, since 1985.