American Photographs 1973-1988.
Photographs by Mitch Epstein.
Steidl, Gottingen, 2005. 158 pp., 73 color illustrations, 16½x11".
Ordinary things here startle, while the extraordinary appears at perfect ease in the world. These pictures, made in the 1970s and 80s, offer a window into the beginning and breadth of Mitch Epstein’s career. Most of these photographs are previously unpublished-culled from 15 years of work that addresses the theme of American recreation. Epstein's interpretation of leisure in the United States is characteristically subtle, ranging, and sharp-witted. In Recreation, teenage girls abandon a baby to fondle a snake; children sleep naked on a car in an open campground-people stake their private ground in public, if only for a moment, during which Epstein's camera finds them. Gesture gives many of these photographs their pulse: tender hand, strained shoulder, swiveled hip. It isn’t the fact of thirteen year olds smoking that will astound viewers, but the grace and knowledge in the young fingers that hold the cigarettes. Epstein's wit is laced with compassion, as he turns these rituals of boredom and beauty, excess and denial, alienation and possibility into a distillation of modern America.