I thought the 140 photos here provided a satisfying look back at Sternfeld's work between 1971 and 1980. The book is divided into four sections and with one exception (Rush hour) I can see how he perfected his creative vision to create these significant photo essays: American prospects (1987) On this site (1996) and Sweet earth (2006).
The four sections are 'Happy Anniversary sweetie face!' with forty-eight photos taken across the country between 1971 and 1980. Revealing interior and exteriors, commonplace street scenes and portraits. The section heading is from a 1978 wedding anniversary billboard. Jessica May's back-book essays mentions Sternfeld's choice of non-primary hues for his work during these years as he felt it reflected the decade, as Day-Glo color is associated with the Sixties. 'Nags Head' has forty photos all taken in June and August 1976 in the North Carolina beach resort. The narrative here is people on the beach and enjoying their company after dark, with plenty of interiors. 'Rush hour' has thirty-two photos, taken in 1976, of people movement mostly in New York and Chicago. By their nature these seem to me not much more street quickies with several distinctly odd shots. Rather than show masses of people on the move Sternfeld has concentrated on close-ups of parts of bodies and nearly all of them taken at dusk so that the travelers merge into the darkness of the environment. Certainly the weakest section of the four.
The last section 'At the mall' taken during June 1980 has thirty-four shots and here I felt Sternfeld has developed the idea of a visual narrative that works so well in his later books. He visited a series of New Jersey malls and asked shoppers to show him what they bought. Unlike the 'Rush hour' shots the buyers proudly face the camera and generally look satisfied with their retail experience.
This is a chunky substantial book with the one photo to a spread, the blank left-hand page could well have carried the captions (only location and date) but Steidl insists that readers will have to flip to a caption page at the back of the book. The paper is a lovely silky matt art, just right for the 175 screen printing and a light colored Kraft paper with the titles starts the four sections.
I thought the book an excellent overview of Sternfeld's color explorations and in particular the development of his narrative style which comes across so forcefully in the books I mentioned.
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