About the Photographer
American, b. 1951
Starting his career in the forensic police photography, Jeffrey Wolin creates confrontational portraits about memory and identity, often writing narratives or excerpts to interviews with his subjects in silver marker onto the surface of his photographs. 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 in Bloomington, Indiana after reading about the grisly 1986 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.
In another series, Jeff Wolin creates portraits matched with excerpts of transcribed interviews of veterans of the Vietnam War. Considering how his subjects’ lives today are perpetually informed by their time in combat, Wolin aims to record the many residual consequences of war. The series began in 1992, culminating in a traveling exhibition and book, "Written in Memory" (Chronicle Books, 1997). Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, then spearheading the Veterans History Project, wrote a letter on Wolin’s behalf to Vietnam veterans in Indiana, which ultimately allowed him to expand his network nation-wide. As an official partner of the Veterans History Project, Wolin’s videotaped interviews are now archived at the Library of Congress.
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.