Published by Steidl Photography International. Text by Mitch Epstein.
Mitch Epstein's latest project tackles one of the most loaded issues on the nation's agenda: what and who powers America? Between 2003 and 2008, prompted by the evacuation of an environmentally contaminated Ohio town, Epstein traveled the United States to document the country's energy "hot spots," where fossil fuel, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind and solar power are produced, encountering further contaminations, Homeland Security obstacles, corporate invincibility and the occasional token of hope. In a post-Katrina and post-Patriot Act America, the angle of engagement permitted Epstein often varied, so that many of the power plants and refineries were shot from an enforced distance ("If you were Muslim, you'd be cuffed and taken in for questioning," he quotes an F.B.I. agent in West Virginia telling him). Alongside these classic depictions of looming, obdurate power, Epstein includes more idiomatic images--a woman wading in the water above Niagara Falls, father and son motorcross bikers, a tree cluttered with debris--which bring the issues back down to human scale. Epstein tells in an accompanying essay how these experiences deepened his political convictions, and led him to think harder about the artist's role in a country teetering between collapse and transformation. Here is his portrait of early twenty-first-century America, as it clings to past comforts and gropes for a more sensible and sustainable future. Mitch Epstein has scrutinized the physical and psychic landscapes of America since the early 1970s. With the Recreation and Family Business projects, Epstein established himself as an artist who, in his own words, seeks "to engage with the complexity of our cultural state of things, rather than reduce it to visual sloganeering."
Published by Steidl. Edited by Susan Bell, Ryan Spencer. Text by Mitch Epstein, Susan Bell.
In his newest series, Mitch Epstein investigates permanence and impermanence by photographing rocks that last millions of years and clouds that evaporate before our eyes. These large-format black-and-white pictures, taken in New York City, examine society’s complex relationship to nature, a theme Epstein has explored in previous work, such as his acclaimed tree pictures. “While laid up with a ruptured Achilles tendon, I wrestled with the passage of time, which suddenly felt palpable; read Robert Smithson; and reconsidered the inextricability of nature and human society,” Epstein notes. “All this led me to photograph rocks and clouds in the city.” The way the sky and ground can mirror one another intrigued ancient Chinese painters, as well as Smithson and the Surrealists, all of whom inspired this project. Here, Epstein draws attention to the sculptural quality of New York City’s clouds, bedrock and architecture--which, at its most elemental, is made from rock. Cloud wedges engulf a cargo ship, buildings recall Constructivist paintings and boulders are imposing elders in the middle of a park or sidewalk. Rocks and Clouds suggests society’s inability to control time and tame nature. While it seems impossible to make a fresh picture of New York, Epstein gives us a surprising portrait of it. A pioneer of 1970s color photography, Mitch Epstein has photographed the human engagement with the landscape for the past 40 years. Epstein has won numerous awards including the Prix Pictet, the Berlin Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has recorded the cultural and physical evolution of the United States from 1973 to the present in his Steidl books Family Business (2003), Recreation (2005) and American Power (2011).
Mitch Epstein's new work is a series of photographs of the idiosyncratic trees that inhabit New York City. These pictures underscore the importance of trees to urban life and their complex relationship to their human counterparts. Rooted in New York's sidewalks, parks, and cemeteries, some trees grow wild, some are contortionists adapting to constrictive surroundings, while others are pruned into prize specimens. As urban development closes in on them, surprisingly, New York's trees continue to thrive. From 2011 to 2012, Epstein explored New York's five boroughs in search of remarkable trees, often returning to photograph the same trees through the changing seasons and light. Many of these trees, Epstein learnt, were planted in one context--a farm or nursery, for instance--and had survived to be part of another, a city street or public garden; and most will likely outlive us to find their habitat continue to change. The cumulative effect of these photographs is to invert people's usual view of their city: trees no longer function as background, but instead dominate the human life and architecture around them.
Published by Hatje Cantz. Text by Christoph Schreier, Giesela Parak, Stephan Berg.
Mitch Epstein (born 1952) is among America's finest contemporary photographers. Two of the most powerful series upon which his reputation rests are Recreation (1973-1988) and American Power (2003), sequences that attempt to make fundamental statements about the U.S. by scrutinizing how its citizens spend their leisure and how its energy industry operates. This publication examines the development of Epstein's work through the example of these two very different series. Recreation exemplifies traditional American street photography in its sometimes ironized depiction of everyday circumstances, where American Power critiques the energy industry and its interventions in nature in much bolder gestures--cooling towers and oil refineries dominate the picture frame, riding roughshod over all rules of proportion and dwarfing anything in their vicinity. Here, in 80 color images selected from these series, Epstein's development is traced, from major protagonist of the American color photography boom to leading commentator on the state of the nation.
Published by Steidl. Edited by Susan Bell, Ryan Spencer.
Berliners have chosen to leave traces of the worst of themselves in their architecture and landscape. They have understood what a largely amnesiac America has not: reform relies on memory.--Mitch Epstein In 2008 Mitch Epstein won the Berlin Prize in Arts and Letters and was awarded a six-month residency at the American Academy in Berlin. Epstein proudly accepted the offer and initially planned to read and reflect in the academy's comfortable surroundings. But he could not ignore the call of contemporary Berlin for long. As a Jewish-American whose relatives had died in the Holocaust, Epstein set out to confront this past by photographing the remnants of Berlin's war and postwar histories. The resulting images--including the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, fashion billboards at Checkpoint Charlie, the Jewish Memorial at Potsdammer Platz and the Dalai Lama speaking at the Brandenburg Gate--reveal Berlin's present to be a fraught accumulation of the layers of its past.