American Identity: Photographer Joel Sternfeld
New York photographer Joel Sternfeld is perhaps best known for his signature tome, American Prospects. Published in the '80s, it chronicled '70s/'80s America via his epic cross country trek through the land of purple mountains' majesty, during that period. Prospects' muted pastel color palette became closely associated with this pioneer of 70s color fine art photography.
But never the one-trick pony, the septuagenarian Sternfeld is now busy working on a new fascinating body of work, as I found out when I interviewed him in London in late January (timed with his solo show at Beetles & Huxley — the very same gallery which exhibited a piece by Lord Patrick Lichfield featuring my mum).
With the soul of Utopian and the heavy heart of a Dystopian, the sociopolitically inclined photographer has mapped out American identity — and its relationship to the world — both visually and via text + image.
A centerpiece of his new (word and photo) oeuvre is a portrait of a gondolier who cruises the waterways of Lake Havasu, Arizona (where a reassembled London Bridge stands sentry). In Sternfeld's related short film, the aforementioned man sings Italian arias as he paddles around the bridge and a nearby booze cruise area filled with orange tanned collegiate revelers — like a sort of North American Don Quixote.
And Sternfeld's as of yet unseen upcoming work takes on the theme of a 19th century New Englander's persecution for essentially sporting a beard to First Amendment levels (and reminds me a bit of the tale of Homer Lee Honeycutt in Kris Kristofferson's The Law is For Protection of the People.