New York

Joel Sternfeld

Daniel Wolf

The Sternfeld pictures at Daniel Wolf do include all those in “The New Color,” and a couple of dozen more. Sternfeld does the nearly impossible: he uses a plate camera for candid photography. Just by attempting this he predisposes me to like his work, or at least to be sympathetic to it. But he does something with his plate camera that’s even more absurd, and rather inspired. He covers news stories. This is not just a gimmick. It makes a conceptual statement about photography, the kind of original statement that has sometimes been the beginning point for a photographer’s greatest work. The stories Sternfeld goes on are pretty minor—a house fire, some beached whales, a Texas stop-over for the space shuttle as it’s piggybacked to Cape Canaveral—and once he’s on the scene, he keeps his distance. Thus he makes his photograph into a peripheral view of an already peripheral event. The purpose is to find the seams between the ordinary and the extraordinary. It’s very much the esthetic of Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Fall of Icarus, a painting whose modern counterpart, I’ve always felt, lies in photography. In one of Sternfeld’s pictures, a big frame farmhouse is burning out of control in the background. In the foreground, the farm stand has been abandoned . . . or, well, not quite abandoned, actually. One of the firemen is going among the rows of produce, calmly picking out his pumpkin.

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.