Henry Wessel: Documentary Style and Beyond
Published by La Fábrica.
Text by Jean-Christophe Blaser, Nathalie Pariente, Antonio Pomet.
The first complete retrospective on the Bay Area New Topographics photographer
In 1975, curator William Jenkins noticed that a slew of American photographers possessed a similar documentarian aesthetic—direct, mostly black-and-white prints of urban landscapes, executed with an ironic, at times, critical eye—and famously dubbed this aesthetic the New Topographics. Bay Area photographer Henry Wessel (1942–2018) was counted among the group’s ranks, along with Robert Adams, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott and Stephen Shore. Known for his black-and-white images of the American West, Wessel’s work closely aligns with Jensen’s description. Exploring the territory where nature and culture meet, Wessel spontaneously captured scenes from everyday life, sometimes incorporating touches of deadpan humor in the process. Unlike some of the other New Topographic photographers, however, he still paid considerable attention to form and light—unwilling to fully cede stylized interventions. As he traversed the West, Wessel developed a repertoire of motifs—including shrubbery, parking lots and beachgoers—transmuting banal subjects into a personal poetry.
Henry Wessel: Documentary Style and Beyond presents a survey of the photographer’s work, compiling a selection of his most representative images. The volume also includes photographs by other great figures of American documentary photography, such as Ed Ruscha, Lee Friedlander and Diane Arbus.