Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mitch Epstein

Mitch Epstein born 1952 in Holyoke, Massachusetts is an American photographer.

Epstein was a student of Gary Winogrand at The Cooper Union in 1972, after having attended the Rhode Island School of Design. While at Cooper, Epstein relinquished classical black and white photography to use color, which was, at the time, considered a slick tool of advertising. Epstein helped pioneer the redefinition of color photography as art form.

By the mid-1970s, Epstein had abandoned his academic studies and begun to travel, embarking on a photographic exploration of the United States. In 1978, he journeyed to India with his then wife, director Mira Nair, where he was a producer, set designer, and cinematographer on several films, including Salaam Bombay! and ''India Cabaret. His book In Pursuit of India is a compilation of his Indian photographs from this period.

From 1992 to 1995, Epstein photographed in Vietnam, which resulted in a large one-wall grid installation, along with a book titled Vietnam: A Book of Changes. Epstein's Vietnam pictures reveal the complexity of a culture molded by French colonialism, the American war, and western consumer culture. “I don’t know that Mitch Epstein’s glorious photographs record all of what is salient in end-of-the-twentieth century Vietnam," wrote Susan Sontag, "for it’s been more than two decades since my two stays there. I can testify that his images confirm what moved and troubled me then…and offer shrewd and poignant glimpses into the costs of imposing a certain modernity. This is beautiful, authoritative work by an extremely intelligent and gifted photographer.”

Having lived and traveled beyond the United States for over a decade, Epstein began to spend more time in his adopted home of New York City. He managed to turn New York into a city that looked unfamiliar—as imagined as it was real—in The City, a series of pictures that was the first chapter in his American trilogy.

In 1999, he began what would become the second chapter of the trilogy. Epstein returned to his hometown of Holyoke, Massachusetts, to record the demise of his father's two businesses—a retail furniture store and a low-rent real estate empire. The resulting project assembled large-format photographs, video, archival materials, interviews and writing by the artist. The book, Family Business (Steidl), which combined all of these elements, won the 2004 Krazna-Kraus Best Photography Book of the Year award. Family Business is often cited as a seminal work of photography, as well as bookmaking.

The American trilogy was completed with a project called American Power. From 2004 to 2009, Epstein explored how landscape and society intersect in the United States via energy production. He photographed energy production sites and their environs in twenty-five states, often hounded by Homeland Security agents. These pictures question notions of power, electrical and political. The large-scale prints from this series have been exhibited worldwide and published as a monograph (Steidl, 2009). In a review for Art in America, Dave Coggins wrote that Epstein "grounds his the human condition, combining empathy with sharp social observation, politics with sheer beauty."

Epstein is now collaborating with his second wife, author Susan Bell, on a public art installation based on American Power. American Power Public Art (APPA) will use billboards and transportation posters, as well as a website, to disseminate art and text to a broad public; and, in so doing, prompt environmental awareness and activism.

Epstein has exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. In spring 2007, FOAM museum in Amsterdam exhibited a selection from Family Business and American Power. His additional books include Recreation: American Photographs 1973-1988 and the recent retrospective WORK. Epstein was a Guna S. Mundheim Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany in spring 2008. He lives in New York City with his wife and daughter.

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