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A Closer Look - First Pictures

from the book First Pictures by Joel Sternfeld
My first introduction to an artist’s work often comes years (if not decades) after their first major project has toured museums and been published in book form. It’s a thrilling experience to have your mind blown by a body of work of epic proportions and may even give you a kick in the butt to load up your film holders and drive off into the distance. There is also something to be said for watching the progression of a young artist as they find their voice and develop into an intelligent storyteller. If I’m behind the curve, I’ll often find myself searching out the circumstances as to how a great photographer came to be. Reading about a photographer’s artistic evolution is fascinating and many times inspiring, and for me completes a dialogue that is often missing from many conversations I hold regarding contemporary photography. There are a few books as of recent that have come out to give context to how a specific photographer developed their legendary style, most notably William Eggleston’s Before Color and now Joel Sternfeld’s First Pictures.

from the book First Pictures by Joel Sternfeld
from the book First Pictures by Joel Sternfeld
The photographs in First Pictures were made between 1971 and 1980 and lay the foundation for Sternfeld’s first Guggenheim Fellowship awarded in 1978. His second fellowship, awarded in 1982, led the path to his epic series American Prospects. The images published in First Pictures provide the viewer with an insightful understanding of Sternfeld’s development leading up to his larger bodies of work and adds context to his imprint on the history of early color photography. The Kodachromes in this book are reminiscent of a past America and are separated into four bodies of work, Happy Anniversary Sweetie Face!, Nags Head, Rush Hour and At the Mall, New Jersey. As the photographer continued to move forward and focus on new work, the images here were left behind and have been largely unseen until now.

from the book First Pictures by Joel Sternfeld
Serving as a time capsule to an America that existed only a few decades ago, this collection contains a number of fascinating portraits, humorous social situations and telling landscapes. For me, it was important to see these images. My understanding of and appreciation for Sternfeld’s later work has been enhanced by the photographs in this complimentary edition.

Purchase a copy of First Pictures here

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