Exhibition: ‘Joel Sternfeld – Color Photographs since 1970’ at Foam, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 16th December 2011 – 14th March 2012



Foam Curator Colette Olof on Joel Sternfeld



In mid-December Foam will present the first major retrospective exhibition in the Netherlands of the work of Joel Sternfeld (1944, New York), one of the pioneers of colour photography. Foam will be showing more than one hundred photos from ten different series in an exhibition spanning two floors. A highlight is Sternfeld’s early work from the 1970s, which has never been previously exhibited. A large selection from famed series such as American Prospects, the result of his legendary journey through the United States, and Stranger Passing will also be on show. A constant factor in his work is his native land America, its inhabitants and the traces left by people on the landscape. With a subtle feeling for irony and an exceptional feeling for colour, Sternfeld offers us an image of daily life in America over the last three decades.


New Color Photography

Along with William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, Sternfeld saw to it that colour photography became a respected artistic medium in the 1970s. Until that time, colour was used widely in advertising and amateur photography, but was rarely seen in museums and galleries. Sternfeld was influenced by the colour theory of the Bauhaus and by the work of William Eggleston, whose exhibition in MoMA in 1976 marked the official acceptance of colour photography in the art world.


Early Work

A typical ‘street photographer’ style can be recognised in Sternfeld’s early and as yet unknown work, using a 35mm camera, to record everyday life in America. This work already contained the characteristics that made his later work so successful. In 1978, Joel Sternfeld began a long journey through the United States. For eight years he crisscrossed his homeland and recorded everything he encountered with his large-format camera. His investigation into the landscape and people moving within it resulted in the American Prospects series (1979-1983). In Stranger Passing (1987-2000) Sternfeld concentrated on people. He photographed them in an unambiguous way: from the same distance and looking directly into the camera. This series is a portrait of a society, comparable to the magnum opus of August Sander in the early twentieth century. Just as in American Prospect, there is evidence of a light absurdism as well as sympathy for those being portrayed.


The American Landscape

For the On This Site series (1993-1996), Sternfeld photographed urban and rural locations which were at first glance unremarkable. In the accompanying text, however, it becomes clear that these were the locations of ‘crime passionnels’, racial violence and stabbings. The photos thus acquire an entirely different connotation. In Sweet Earth (1993-2005) Sternfeld shows alternative lifestyles and communities which have arisen in America over the past two centuries. He travelled to the homes and communities of people that do not fit into conventional lifestyles and instead pursue another way of life. In Oxbow Archive (2005-2007) Sternfeld depicts the effects of the changing seasons on the landscape and how human behaviour influences nature.”

Press release from Foam website



Keizersgracht 609
1017 DS Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Phone: + 31 20 5516500

Opening hours:
Mon – Wed 10.00 – 18.00 hrs
Thu – Fri 10.00 – 21.00 hrs
Sat – Sun 10.00 – 18.00 hrs

Foam website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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