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Nags Head

Joel Sternfeld

Steidl Verlag

Publication date : 2024/02/14
Weight 1001 g / dimensions 25.3 x 30.5 cm / 96 pages
ISBN 9783969993187

Joel Sternfeld entwines two personal stories in this book that together reveal the roots and evolution of color theory in his work over the past five decades. In the summer of 1975, facing surgery with a risk of paralysis, Sternfeld went in search of a last idyll—and found it in Nags Head on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. From June to August he photographed the seaside town floating in time, capturing a dreamlike sense of solace. Sternfeld’s images show beachgoers of all ages in various scenes of leisure and recreation in this, his first body of work addressing a season. At the time, Sternfeld was already committed to color as the basis of photographic expression and fascinated by Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color: “Any time that I saw a color phenomenon in the landscape that somehow coincided with an Albers-type exercise in the perceptual properties of color, I made a photograph.”

Yet this summer sojourn was tragically broken by the death of Sternfeld’s brother; the photographer returned to New York, never to go back to Nags Head. Eventually Sternfeld resumed working and one day headed to Rockaway Beach, Queens. Here he took a picture in which “All at once the ugly scene appeared beautiful to me”—the hues of sand, apartments and sky fused into a cohesive whole: finally, content had been transcended through color. This photo, made in despair and with its perceptual foundation in the Nags Head series, would lead, a few years later, to the color structures of Sternfeld’s magnum opus American Prospects, his ambitious realization of what he had always wanted to do: follow the seasons across America.

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