Joel Sternfeld - On This Site

April 24, 2018

 

"On This Site" is made up of 50 landscapes associated with infamous American crimes such as the Unabomber killings, the assassination of Martin Luther King and the Rodney King Riots.

 

Published in 1996, the initial intention of the project at the time was to investigate the rise in violence in America, however as Sternfeld writes at the end of the book, the project is a much more emotional experience.  

 

"Two and a half years later, what has the experience of making these photographs taught me? When i first began, I thought i had to find all of the answers; I had to know if America is more violent than it was in the past, if it is more violent than other nations. I realise now that these questions are not the crucial ones. Each tragedy demands its own remembrance. Each of them is ours."

 

 

 

Throughout the book deals with crimes related to race and homophobia. The book marks the dates of each crime, which looking at the book over 20 years after its original publication, acts as a reminder of how little time that has past since such crimes were more common place in society.

 

 

 

The way that text interacts with imagery in the book forms something of a juxtaposition. Without context the landscapes are pleasant, often shot in golden light the images are warm and pleasing to look at. When given the context of the text these images are transformed into part of a story, the viewer is invited to look at the landscapes thinking of what took place there, suddenly the scene loses its innocence.

 

 

 

On this Site is an example of a documentary photobook done right, by weaving in cultural facts with personal details and the memory of the landscape, Sternfeld manages to create a book brimmed with emotion and cultural significance.

 

The book ends with an Afterword from the artist in which he comments on his own experience of loss and how he associates the pain of others with his own memories. 

 

Finally the book ends on a positive note, with an image of the Mosque in which the LA gangs the Bloods and the Crips signed a peace truce in 1992.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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