Georgia on my mind: Mark Steinmetz's American south – in pictures

Originally appeared in The Guardian

From Mississippi lightning to balloons in Georgia, Steinmetz captures stories of longing, despondency and mystery in his photos of the southern states

  Mississippi, 1994

 

Mississippi, 1994

The American south glows with romance and poignancy in the photography of Mark Steinmetz, whose show South is at Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York, until 13 May.

Steinmetz lives in Athens, Georgia, but was born in New York and raised in the Boston area. He studied at Yale’s School of Art.

He cut his teeth working with the acclaimed street photographer Garry Winogrand, cruising around Los Angeles in Steinmetz’s Fiat. ‘Garry’s cheerful, practical manner and advice probably helped me shave off years of worrying how to be,’ Steinmetz has written.

His work has since taken him from Little League baseball to Cleveland classrooms, Paris fashion houses and sheep farms. The South exhibition focuses on work taken mostly in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Summer Camp, Hendersonville, NC, 1995

Summer Camp, Hendersonville, NC, 1995

He works in black and white, explaining to Vogue: ‘There are emotional notes that black and white can deliver that colour cannot. It is a different medium. It’s like silent film. You know, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin delivered some moments where they killed you. They just absolutely killed you. It’s not going to happen like that again with sound’.

Steinmetz photographs serendipitous moments of beauty, rarely knowing his subjects of his photos – he sometimes asks them to repeat a gesture he saw them making .

In another interview, he argues: ‘Black-and-white has more stillness to it, you can be absorbed into it in a different way. You have to employ your poetic imagination. With colour, I just have an argument! Is the green really this green, or is that the green of Kodak? I’m more interested in the narrative, the human, the interior depth of what I’m photographing – I don’t want to be distracted by bright red outerwear’

He also prizes film over digital. ‘With digital, people take pictures endlessly without being selective, and don’t learn to discipline their minds. It’s important to take an internal pause while you photograph. Time is actually malleable … Be aware of how many frames you have left and stay conscious. That’s how you’ll walk away with the photo in hand.

Steinmetz works in a darkroom in his home. ‘The darkroom is where I really confront what I’ve been doing, whether I have been successful or not and whether making a print is worth the effort. Doing darkroom work yourself helps you to become a better editor of your work, which helps you be a better photographer.

'Today’s world is so fast-paced … that in comparison, darkroom work seems to be an alien relic from an ancient world’

I don’t begin a project with an agenda,’ he has said. ‘It begins with a faint vision – one of those whispers on a breeze – that somehow gets a grip on me.'

Athens, GA, 1995

Athens, GA, 1995

Steinmetz’s work has appeared in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and Box Galerie in Brussels .

His books include The Players, Angel City West and last year’s 15 Miles to K-Ville; he has also written for Time magazine

His next project is a commission from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta for its Picturing the South series, which will be exhibited this year.

 

 

how mark steinmetz captures love and lightning in the american south

Text by Emily Manning | Originally appeared in i-D

As a new exhibition of black-and-white images made in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and North Carolina opens in New York City, we speak to the photographer about life in Dixie.

Knoxville, TN, 1991. Gelatin silver print. © Mark Steinmetz, Courtesy of the Artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery

Knoxville, TN, 1991. Gelatin silver print. © Mark Steinmetz, Courtesy of the Artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery

A few hours before Mark Steinmetz's new exhibition opens at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York, it's lashing rain. The biblical downpour has made this sequestered stretch of West 22nd Street even less populated. The only sign of life is a mail carrier's push cart, abandoned outside the Comme des Garçons store opposite the gallery. For a moment, I try to imagine how the scene might look through the photographer's lens. Steinmetz's black-and-white images — medium format and elegantly rendered in silver gelatin — have been described as intimate, quietly evocative, and often melancholic. Quickly, though, I decide this exercise feels wrong.

For one, Steinmetz's show is called South. It collects pictures he made throughout the 90s (and, in a few cases, the aughts) exclusively in the American South. Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and North Carolina — landscapes with little in common with the west side of Manhattan. And, as he later tells me, he's "very interested in anticipation in photography." What happens before the rain, so to speak, or after.

Atlanta, GA, 2007. Gelatin silver print. © Mark Steinmetz, Courtesy of the Artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery

Atlanta, GA, 2007. Gelatin silver print. © Mark Steinmetz, Courtesy of the Artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery

Yet Steinmetz isn't a stranger to New York City. He was born here, but lived in Boston-area suburbs like Cambridge and Newton until he was 12. After attending high school in the midwest, he returned to New England at 21, to study photography at the Yale School of Arts. After one semester, Steinmetz dropped out of the MFA program, and in the summer of 1983, he journeyed to Los Angeles, where he heard the legendary Garry Winogrand was living. (He turned out to be correct, and last year, published a book of pictures he made while working alongside Winogrand, Angel City West.) So how did he end up in the South?

"I went to high school, weirdly, in Iowa City, Iowa. So there was some exposure to this kind of America outside of the urban areas," he explains. "I didn't go down to the South until I was doing freelance photography in Chicago. I got a last-minute job to teach at [the University of Tennessee] Knoxville, so that's when I moved. I loved it right away." He's been living and working in Athens, Georgia since 1999.

 

Lightning Strike, Mississippi, 1994. Gelatin silver print. © Mark Steinmetz, Courtesy of the Artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery.

Lightning Strike, Mississippi, 1994. Gelatin silver print. © Mark Steinmetz, Courtesy of the Artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery.

So often, images of young people are coded to communicate the hope of possibility, or the sorrow of its absence. In these pictures, and many of South's others (a woman leaning on her fence in Knoxville, a boy looking out a car window in Georgia, a goth on a front lawn in North Carolina) Steinmetz refuses the imposition, or even interpretation, of a single narrative or emotion. We don't have the information (and despite what many of us in the North may believe, the right) to make those judgements.

Steinmetz doesn't really either. His photographs are not documentary in a topical or newsworthy sense. Still, though they are often intimate, they are never staged. Steinmetz rarely knows his subjects. Sometimes, he asks them to repeat a gesture he's observed them making, but doesn't pose their movements. "I like pictures that have a sense of spontaneity and suddenness. Otherwise, it's just too dull for me."

Maia, Knoxville, 1991. Gelatin silver print. © Mark Steinmetz, Courtesy of the Artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery

Maia, Knoxville, 1991. Gelatin silver print. © Mark Steinmetz, Courtesy of the Artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery

That sense of spontaneity and suddenness tends to manifest subtly in Steinmetz's photographs. But in one of South's pictures — taken, fittingly, during a rainstorm — it arrives as literal lightning. In 1994, Steinmetz captured a car-less Mississippi highway. Framed by jet black trees, a towering crack of white emerges from the misty sky. Its reflection on the wet pavement stretches all the way to Steinmetz's vantage point. I ask him how this picture was even possible with medium format.

"Before this work, I did a lot of 35mm photography," he explains. When he saw lightning, he realized he only had two frames at the end of his roll. "There are lightning strikes in each picture, which is pretty good," he says with a smile. For Steinmetz, it's about "divining what the next moment will bring."

'South' is on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery through May 13, 2017.

Mark Steinmetz discusses a photo from the early work of Diane Arbus.

Originally appeared in Time Lightbox

Looking through the early photographs of Diane Arbus, I am struck by the ones where Arbus goes unnoticed by her subjects. In Couple Arguing, Coney Island, NY, 1960, something is really happening. The man takes up the center of the frame while the woman floats a little behind and clings to him tightly. Without much by way of legs or arms, she could be an annoying apparition. Her mouth is wide-open in mid-yap; his is tightly shut. His face is turned away from her verbal onslaught as he tries to tune her out. His right arm is positioned as if carrying a shield (this gladiator has a cigarette instead of a sword), and his eyes seek an escape somewhere off in the distance and in the future.

Latest News

Latest News From the Steinmetz Studio

Image from True Photo Journal

Image from True Photo Journal

Face It- Bowling Green State University Gallery

AUGUST 30 – OCTOBER 6

Reception September 19

BGSU Gallery

An expanded definition of photographic portraiture is explored in this exhibition of works by 27 renowned artists curated by Lynn Whitney, Andrew Hershberger & Jacqueline Nathan.  It will be shown at Slocumb Gallery and the Reece Museum at East Tennessee State University in October. A catalogue with an introduction by Andrew Hershberger will accompany the exhibition. Dorothy Uber Bryan Gallery.    

Lux: The Radiant Sea at Yancey Richardson Gallery

Mark Steinmetz, Carey, Farmington, Georgia, 1996

Mark Steinmetz, Carey, Farmington, Georgia, 1996

July 14- August 20, 2015
Tuesday - Saturday 10am - 6pm
Yancey Richardson Gallery at 25 West 22nd Street
New York NY 10011.

Olivo Barbieri, Mary Ellen Bartley, Christopher Bucklow, Linda Connor, Tim Davis, Mitch Epstein, Roe Ethridge, Lee Friedlander, Bryan Graf, Jitka Hanzlová, CJ Heyliger, Matthew Jensen, Kenneth Josephson, Laura Letinsky, Ray Metzker, Orit Raff, Rinko Kawauchi, Tokihiro Sato, Lynn Saville, Mark Steinmetz, Yosuke Takeda, Wolfgang Tillmans, James Welling

For more information please visit Yancey Richardson Gallery

The Teen Years- Joseph Bellows Gallery

The Teen Years

July 9 - August 26, 2016

Upcoming Exhibition
The Teen Years
July 9th – August 26th, 2016
Opening Reception: July 9th from 6-8pm.

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition, The Teen Years. This group exhibition will open on July 9th and continue through August 26th, 2016. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, July 9th, from 6-8 pm.

The Teen Years will feature a selection of both vintage and contemporary photographs that address the physical, social, and emotional aspects of adolescence, and the formation of identity. The photographs included in the exhibition present a collective portrait of youth: its awkwardness, innocence, fury, elation, beauty and trepidation.

Photographs by Joseph Sterling, Edward Sturr, Enrico Natali, Elaine Mayes, Bevan Davies, Nacio Jan Brown, Melissa Shook, Harry Ibach, Duncan McCosker, Christine Osinski, Joan Albert, Sage Sohier, Mark Steinmetz, John Myers, Andrea Modica, Bill Yates, Roger Vail and others will be included.

To request further information or high resolution images please contact Joseph Bellows Gallery at info@josephbellows.com. Established in 1998, Joseph Bellows Gallery features rotating exhibitions of both historic and contemporary photography, with a special interest in American work from the 20th Century. More information can be found at www.josephbellows.com

For more information please visit the Joseph Bellows Gallery

Snapshot: ‘The Teen Years’

Article originally appeared in Financial Times

©Mark Steinmetz, Jessica, Athens, GA, (1997)

In 1983, with a vague idea about working in film, Mark Steinmetz dropped out of Yale School of Art and headed to California. Poor and directionless, he was inspired by a brief friendship with the LA-based black-and-white street photographer Garry Winogrand. His work now features in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Like his mentor, Steinmetz’s monochrome photographs communicate sincerity, closeness and a sense of mystery. “Staged work often seems fairly lifeless,” he says. “There’s little surprise to it — it lacks that freshness, that rawness that comes from discovering something that’s out there in life.”

Travelling the nation, Steinmetz sought to capture the spirit of American adolescence. His work now forms part of the Joseph Bellows exhibition, The Teen Years; a collective portrait of the beauty and awkwardness, the sound and fury of youth.

‘The Teen Years’, Joseph Bellows Gallery, San Diego, California, until August 26; josephbellows.com

©Mark Steinmetz, Highway 441, Georgia-North Carolina State Line, (1997)

©Mark Steinmetz, Highway 441, Georgia-North Carolina State Line, (1997)

©Christine Osinski, Two Girls with Big Wheels, (1983-84)

©Christine Osinski, Two Girls with Big Wheels, (1983-84)

©Linda Brooks, David in his room, (1981)

©Linda Brooks, David in his room, (1981)

©Joan Albert, Martin, (July 1980)

©Joan Albert, Martin, (July 1980)

©Elaine Mayes, Rodney, 19, Haight Ashbury, (1968)

©Elaine Mayes, Rodney, 19, Haight Ashbury, (1968)

©John Myers, Juliette, (1979)

©John Myers, Juliette, (1979)

©Andrea Modica, Untitled, Modena, Italy, (2010)

©Andrea Modica, Untitled, Modena, Italy, (2010)

©Edward Sturr, Coney Island, (1963)

©Edward Sturr, Coney Island, (1963)

Mark Steinmetz, Angel City West

By Loring Knoblauch | Originally appears in Collector Daily

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2015 by Nazraeli Press (here), as part of the NZ Library Set Two. Hardcover, slipcased, 64 pages, with 58 black and white reproductions. Includes a short introductory essay by the artist. In an edition of 350. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Looking at the lesser known early work of an established artist is a bit like going on a treasure hunt. Made before the artist likely settled into his or her mature style, these images often feel fluidly rough, unfinished, and experimental, and seen with the benefit of hindsight, tantalizing hints of what would come later can be seen peeking through. In many cases, an artist needs to work through some major influences first, unpacking their merits and determining which parts can be repurposed for their own use, so early periods are sometimes a methodical exercise in sifting through the echoes and connections of teachers and heroes, in search of the genuinely original voice underneath. But early production is just as often made with an untainted freshness, the without-a-net risk taking coming naturally from the very beginning. In both scenarios, opening the long sealed boxes and examining what happened at the start can be a critical part of building a larger and more comprehensive narrative arc for an artist’s career.

This lushly produced photobook heads back to 1983, when a 21 year old Mark Steinmetz left art school at Yale and headed west to California (his pre-selfie self portrait graces the cover). A short preface to the book sets the scene – Steinmetz living in a tiny roach-infested apartment, running into Garry Winogrand at a local camera shop, and ultimately seeing Winogrand around town enough that they started t0 drive around together in Steinmetz’ champagne-colored Fiat taking pictures. While Winogrand never looked at Steinmetz’ photographs (and subsequently died just a year later), for a young artist trying to find a path in photography, cruising Los Angeles with a master (Steinmetz’ driving so Winogrand could shoot out the window) must have been quite a thrill.

Steinmetz’ own images from this period certainly bear the stylistic hallmarks of the serendipity of classic street photography, where small moments, gestures, and juxtapositions create single frame vignettes, so clearly he was well aware of the history of the genre. And if there is any telltale sign of Winogrand’s indirect influence in these early pictures, it is the touch of social darkness that inhabited Winogrand’s late work, filtered through Steinmetz’ eye for composition; to my eye, there is just a hint more of this deflating mood here than in what Steinmetz would produce later (this is his ninth book with Nazareli).

Like any newcomer to LA, Steinmetz hits on the surfaces that give the city its distinct character. He catches the lilting grace of a roller skater lost in the music. He frames the sun-baked freeways against an impenetrable smoggy sky. He tracks the bored gaze of a child at an enchilada stand. He revels in the sparkled mist of lawn sprinklers. And he collapses the jolting contrast of a fake Christmas tree and arcing palm fronds. While these are geographic themes we have seen before and since, Steinmetz delivers them with a visual maturity unusual for his young age.

Steinmetz seems more at home capturing the fleeting eccentricities of the everyday, especially when a portrait coalesces inside unexpected surroundings. An older man stands on the sidewalk, framed by a narrow band of chainlink fence as thought trapped in a tightening vise. A mechanic ponders the dense cloud of mysterious smoke coming from his garage. A father emphatically tells his tiny daughter in frills of white to go the other way. A young girl hanging out a car window examines the bent over backside of someone rooting in the gutter. And a man seemingly passed out underneath a picnic table hangs on to the wooden bench with weary heaviness.

Compositionally, we can see Steinmetz expanding his angles and views, testing different techniques. He explores width in shots that capture the alignment of a rock in the dirt with a far off VW bug and the expanding distance between a man crossing the street and another sitting by the roadside. He plays with fences as barriers, cast self portrait shadows, fabric patterns (the checked shirts of triplet girls, the animal print pants of an elderly shuffleboard player) and beams of sunlight that catch a woman’s face or hair. He tries out the extremes of light and dark, using sun-blasted white apartments as a backdrop, the shiny dark back of a truck as foreground interruption, and the limitless darkness of a sidewalk sinkhole in the bright afternoon as a central subject. Even Steinmetz’ understated visual humor starts to emerge, allowing the contrast of a skinny boy and a muscled man walking nearby, the poofiness of a fuzzy poodle named Happy, or the heart-shaped bent branches of a suburban tree to deliver their comedy with quiet reserve.

As photobooks go, this is one where sophisticated design focuses attention on the superlative photography, rather than distracting from it. The monograph’s production values are simply immaculate – gorgeous large reproductions given enough white space to breathe, an elegant gold slipcase, and sequencing that deftly shows us patterns and connections in the pictures. It is positively regal in its celebration of these photographs, and luckily enough, Steinmetz’ pictures deserve this kind of perfection of presentation.

That Steinmetz made such consistently excellent work as a 21 year old is hugely impressive. Even if we attribute some of his developing talent to the osmosis effects of Winogrand’s approach to the medium, the pictures we might deem derivative in some manner actively (and knowingly I think) push to get beyond fawning homage. This one of those photobooks that is so much better than we might initially realize – the photographs provide a compelling bridge between the broad-based influences Steinmetz was raised on and the places he was to go later, and that artistic evolution is an intricate and layered story. The photobook delightfully integrates unexpectedly informative and often great pictures into a lovingly crafted and well produced object, offering a rare glimpse of a previously unexplored chapter in Steinmetz’ long career.

Collector’s POV: Mark Steinmetz is represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York (here) and Charles A. Hartman Fine Art in Portland (here). Steinmetz’ prints aren’t consistently available in the secondary markets – only a handful of prints have been sold at auction in the past five years. As such, gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.