Joel Sternfeld: Oxbow Archive

October 8th, 2009

I finally got around to buying Oxbow Archive, Joel Sternfeld’s latest monograph published by Steidl just last October. Good thing – it is almost sold out. I grew up in the Pioneer Valley and aside from the painting View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow, 1836 by Thomas Cole as inspiration for photographing the flood plain of the Connecticut River east of Northampton, Massachusetts, I wondered why choose that American landscape. It is an indescript landscape of cultivated fields surrounded by the chaos of brambles and overgrown vegetation. Yet by following the seasonal progression of Sternfeld’s photographs, I journeyed through the quite landscape, the diffused New England winter light, the crunchy cornstocks, the long grass, the dirt roads, the frozen little puddles that crack when you step on them, and I felt quite nostalgic. Driving north on 91, the Holyoke mountain range opens up into the fields of the valley that allow for an expansive view of the flood plain. Impressive, as in the painting by Cole, but it is through the photographs of Sternfeld, that the layers and details of landscape are explored.

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