About the Photographer
American, b. 1951
Starting his career in the forensic police photography, Jeffrey Wolin creates confrontational portraits that deal with memory and identity. Shot in a straightforward perspective, Wolin puts his viewers even closer to his subjects and their stories by directly writing narratives in silver marker onto the surface of his photographs, violating, in a sense, the long-revered transparency of the photographic image as well as the integrity of the picture plane itself. Working over several decades, his collective works comprise a variety of subjects, including his own journey from childhood to adulthood as well as stories of Holocaust survivors, Vietnam War veterans, and families living in a housing project near his former home in Indiana.
In 1985 Wolin began a series of autobiographical pieces. In the image My Mother (1990) from the MoCP’s permanent collection, Wolin recounts his mother’s deteriorating memory. Shot from above, the image emphasizes the vulnerability of a diminutive woman who looks particularly small clad in clothing too big for her thin frame. On the opposite spectrum, My Father (1986) is shot from below, portraying a powerful, tan, and bare-chested man despite his crippling arthritis. In both works, Wolin provides a handwritten narrative arc: describing his parent in old age, presenting one of his own childhood memories, recalling his parents as vibrant youth, and ending with his thoughts.
Continuing on the theme of narrative portraiture, Wolin began photographing residents of the low-income area of Pigeon Hill after reading about the grisly murder of resident Ellen Marks. Pigeon Hill was long known for its dangerous reputation of being an area rampant in poverty, crime, and substance abuse. Through slowly gaining the trust of the community, Wolin spent four years (1987-1991) photographing individuals and families that lived in the area with his medium-format film camera and adding handwritten excerpts from interviews he conducts with his subjects to the surface of the prints. After recognizing a woman he photographed on Pigeon Hill in a story about her murder on the front page of Bloomington’s local paper in 2010, Wolin decided to find the people he had met in the housing project and continue their stories. Pigeon Hill: Then and Now chronicles Wolin’s project of revisiting and re-photographing these individuals and asking them to reflect upon how their lives have changed. In the 26 years since Wolin began his first project, some of his subjects have become caught in a cycle of crime and delinquency, others remark on improvements in their lives and reflect on the plans they had as children to escape Pigeon Hill in hopes of something better. With these memories written directly on the photographs, Wolin creates a collaborative work that not only tells us something about the people depicted and the society in which they live but lets us reflect on our own lives.
Jeffrey A. Wolin was born in New York City in 1951. He completed his BA degree from Kenyon College (1972) and an MFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology (1977). Wolin received two NEA Visual Artist Fellowships (1988 and 1992) and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1991). He has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions worldwide. His works are in the collections of several museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Houston Museum of Fine Arts; Art Institute of Chicago; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Bibliotèque Nationale de France, Paris; and Museum of Modern Art, New York.