As I entered the current Joel Sternfeld exhibition at C/O Berlin I was excited. Photography is one of my favorite artistic mediums and C/O Berlin one of my favourite venues, so naturally I thought that the exhibition would be a recipe for success. In the end, the exhibition did not live up to expectations; aesthetically, many works seemed to be déjà vu.
Also, viewing the exhibition on a special “Tweetup” (or Museup) evening, detracted from the experience as the night focused on documenting the exhibition via social media, primarily twitter. The concept was to tweet about our experiences in real time (read our tweets here), basically giving everyone an excuse to remain glued to their smartphone and not even pretend to indulge in socializing or enjoying non-tethered experiences.
Life in Color
Admittedly, at first the “Tweetup” idea seemed novel, and the initial room of the exhibition chartering two of Sternfeld’s early photographic series was exciting. The first series, “Happy Birthday Sweetie Face!” features candid glimpses of bygone parties. Meanwhile, the other series, “Rush Hour,” documents his street photography and penchant for color and detail, seen with Sternfeld’s use of manual flash lighting to illustrate the finer details of passersby on the street. Although I enjoy the images, our guide stresses the importance of color in the work and I cannot help but compare Sternfeld’s images to that of other color pioneers such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore.
Visitors at C/O Berlin viewing Joel Sternfeld’s Restrospective exhibition. Photo: Chris Phillips
Despite being part of the same group who established “New Color Photography,” Sternfeld’s images do not have the same impact on me as, for example, Eggleston’s iconic “Red Ceiling.” Instead, I feel the images have a sense of familiarity which, although not displeasing, doesn’t excite me.
Across the USA
Moving onto the next room I am greeted by “American Prospect,” which are the fruits of eight years’ documentary work as Sternfeld traveled across America in a Volkswagon. The series “Stranger Passing” took longer still at fourteen years and concentrates on the country’s inhabitants, illustrating a cross section of society: from a farmer on their rural landscape to a city girl in her hideous magenta 80’s blazer. Again I like the images but have a feeling of déjà vu – this time I am reminded of Robert Frank’s infamous “The Americans” series.
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