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April 28, 2022

American Prospects: Beautiful Color Pictures of Life in America in the 1970s and 1980s

Joel Sternfeld was born in New York City in 1944, and earned a BA in Art from Dartmouth College. Sternfeld began taking photographs in 1970 having studied the colour theory of artists Johannes Itten and Josef Albers. Early work included street photography on small and medium format cameras. 

In 1978, Sternfeld embarked on a road-trip which traversed the United States. Using an 8 x 10 inch camera, Sternfeld photographed the communities, culture, landscapes and quotidian life he encountered along the way.

Kansas City, Kansas, May 1983

American Prospects is seen as a continuation of the American documentary tradition established in the 1930s by Walker Evans and continued by Robert Frank twenty years later. Sternfeld expanded the trajectory of the medium by photographing scenes rich in implied narrative, which were also distinct in their colour and composition. Laced with a touch of irony, his photographs from the project explore American identity in a thought-provoking yet humorous manner. 

His masterful use of colour heightens the tensions in these comic depictions of everyday life in America. First exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and then published in book form in 1987, American Prospects is regarded as one of the most influential bodies of photographic work from this period. Sternfeld’s later work has continued to experiment with colour and put it to use in documenting everyday events and the people he encounters. 

McLean, Virginia, December 1978

The Space Shuttle Columbia Lands at Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, March 1979

Beverly Hills, California, May 1979

Beverly Hills, California, May 1979

Rustic Canyon, Santa Monica, California, May 1979

Approximately 17 of 41 Sperm Whales That Beached and Subsequently Died, Florence, Oregon, June 1979

Lake Oswego, Oregon, June 1979

Sauvies Island, Oregon, June 1979

Exhausted Renegade Elephant, Woodland, Washington, June 1979

Bear Lake, Utah, July 1979

Phoenix, Arizona, August 1979

Yellowstone National Park, August 1979

Park City, Utah, August 1979

After A Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California, 1979

After a Tornado, Grande Isle, Nebraska, June 1980

Swift River, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire, July 1980

Wet n’ Wild Aquatic Theme Park, Orlando, Florida, September 1980

Jungle Gym, Wet n’Wild Aquatic Theme Park, Orlando, Florida, September 1980

Coeburn, Virginia, April 1981

Member of the Christ Family Religious Sect, Hidlago County, Texas, January 1983

A Kickapoo Man in Eagle Pass Texas, January 1983

West Virginia, March 1983

Domestic Workers Waiting for the Bus, Atlanta, Georgia, April 1983

Kansas City, Kansas, May 1983

Glen Canyon Dam, Page, Arizona, 1983

Grafton, West Virginia, February 1983

Canyon Country, California, June 1983

A Blind Man in His Garden, Homer, Alaska, June 1984

Abandoned Freighter, Homer, Alaska, July 1984

Agoura, California, February 1988

(via Joel Sternfeld, Huxley Parlour)


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