Joel Sternfeld: Oxbow Archive
In 1836, the landscape painter and conservationist Thomas Cole completed "View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm (The Oxbow)," his iconic painting of the Connecticut River where it bends like an ox yoke. Nearly 200 years later, Joel Sternfeld walked into the field depicted in the lower right quadrant of Cole's painting--which he had first photographed in 1978 while traveling for his seminal American Prospects series--and began making almost daily photographs. By 2006, the oxbow in the river was crossed by an interstate highway and the destructive effects of progress which Cole had so feared were making themselves apparent globally as climate change. This volume collects 77 of the quietly haunting photographs that Sternfeld made over the next year-and-a-half. His choice of subject matter--a flat, unremarkable corn and potato field--signals a conceptual stance away from previous nature depictions: His field is neither beautiful, nor sublime, nor picturesque. Its flatness offers an eloquent emptiness, as well as a vessel for the true subject of this work--the effects of human consumption upon the natural world. Following Sternfeld's Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America and When It Changed, this volume resounds with political and cultural implications.