Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mitch Epstein

I mentioned Mitch Epstein the other day and I realised it had actually been quite a while since I looked at any of his work.

There was a time when I looked at a number of his books, but I hadn't seen some of the more recent stuff. I remember when it came out, but I hadn't really looked at his whole series and book Family Business, which is very personal and has quite a back story to it.

I was 48 and living in New York when my mother called me about the fire. On a windy August night in 1999, two 12 year old boys had broken into a boarded up apartment building owned by my father in Holyoke Massachusetts and, for the hell of it, set it ablaze. The fire had spread, engulfing a 19th century Catholic church, then a city block.

The 15 million dollar lawsuit the church brought against him threatened to unravel my father's life. He had insufficient liability insurance. If he lost, my parents would be, in effect, after 50 years of a comfortable suburban life together, out on the street... more

I managed to get a copy of Family Business from the library and it was well worth it. Photography that is autobiographical very easily runs the risk of becoming introverted navel gazing and quite boring. This isn't.

In most ways, I think you can probably put Epstein int he same grouping as several of the other New Colour photographers - Shore, Sternfeld, Meyerowitz. I often find his work a little harder to notice, because what he does is often very subtle and needs spending time with. He also seems to photograph more people then many of the other New Colour types have done. He's often quite droll, and the irony is often more affectionate than biting. Indeed, there's a whole new generation of photographers doing this same kind of work now who you get a sense that they sprang right out of Epstein's work.

There are lots of pictures on Epstein's site (as well as here) as well as articles and reviews.


Stan B. said...

Whenever I look at Mitch Epstein's work, I'm reminded of Henry Aaron (the great home run hitter & all around baseball player) who outplayed so many players in so many ways without the flash or self aggrandizement of those much less gifted.

Anonymous said...

I love how well-conceived and executed his projects are, including older stuff like his Vietnam work.

A bonus that comes with the retrospective book "Work" - a DVD of a short film, mostly rocky handheld footage of his Dad dealing w/ the difficult tenant situations. Helps to give some added context to 'Family Business'.

drew said...

when i think of epstein, my thoughts return again and again to that last shot you posted. it's a persistent image for me, a revelatory one: it speaks in memory and yet says so much more than i can recall --- of that time, that light.

i can only second your comments on the "family business" project; it's eloquent, sad, and oh so thoughtful.

one other note on epstein: i wanted to purchase the recent "recreation" book. but i have to say that i found the print reproduction in the volume quite unappealing; so much so that i decided to pass. bigger isn't always better, it seems, at least to me.