LOOKING at Joel Sternfeld

Mishayla_Sternfeld 3

emphasis, framing, exaggeration, distortion, alliteration, echoism, assonanace, rhythm, parallelism, ephanaphora, epanalepsis, climax, anticlimax, anomoly, anachronism, prochronism, anachorism, anastrophe, metaphor, synecdoche, metonyme, personification, euphemism, conceit, paradox, irony, antithesis, oxymoron…

Joel Sternfeld photographs scenes that look like movie sets.  I was wondering if he happened upon these images, or sets the stage like Gregory Crewdson.  There is so much action in the scenes, that the photos read like mysteries that you have to solve.  There is a lot of detail in the images as well… the sites give a lot of clues to give a sense of place, the season, time, weather, location, forces that shape the place, etc.

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1- This picture is so eerie to me.  They are at some sort of tourist attraction, but it isn’t a funpark, or to see the beauty of a natural phenomenon, like the Grand Canyon.  Instead, they are on a massive man-made creation, a landscape of concrete in itself.  What are they all looking at?  I imagine it is water… the massive strength of water is evident in the massiveness of the structure necessary to hold it back.  It is an incredible situation for a photo, but what makes it truly odd is the baby in the playpen in the middle of the road.  Everyone’s back is turned to the baby and he seems all on his own.  The way everyone’s back is turned to the child seems to be a framing device, so that your attention is focused on the child.  This is a photo from a very specific time in the past… it would never happen today.  The way people think about children and protect them is completely different from what is being shown in this scene.  Where are they that they were able to bring a playpen and set it up?  Is there a parking lot behind us, and they pulled it out of their RV?  Have they spent the entire day at this place, waiting for an event that is about to play out?  This scene makes you ask so many questions because of the subject matter, its context, and emphasis.

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2- This picture is also eerie, but kind of funny at the same time.  You really understand the sense of time and place.  It is a rural landscape, in the late autumn. The grass is dry and the trees are bare.  It must be somewhere cold, in the North, because there is no folliage left on the trees, yet they are still selling pumpkins, which usually happens in October, maybe November.  This photo almost gives a sense of both climax and anticlimax.  The house is burning in the background, which is a big, startling event.  Someone’s home is burning, along with all of their belongings… maybe it is the owner of this little farm market.  The fire seems climactic.  On the other hand, life goes on, and there is a woman shopping for a pumpkin in the market, completely cold to the destructive event that is happening just a few hundred feet away.  This seems like anticlimax.  The building burning is not the end-all… there are still other people, living their lives, who don’t stop for this one, lone event.  This answers my question… anticlimax can be beautiful.  This photo also uses alliteration.  You can hear the fire hissing and crackling, as floor beams fall and glass pops.  YOu can hear the gush of water from the firemans’ hose, drenching the burning wood.  I was Northeast Harbor two summers ago, and was awoken one morning at 3am to the sound of a building burning.  I will never forget the sound.  I was lying in bed, hearing cracking and hissing, wondering in my half sleep what the sounds were I was hearing.  Every few seconds the air in the room would change, and you could feel a rumble, as the firehoses sucked massive amounts of water through pipes underground, connected to the harbor.  Those forces define a fire for me now, and I can sense them all in viewing this image.


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