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Stranger Passing: Capturing the Everyday
Joel Sternfeld's Homage to Places, Faces Passed By Stranger Passing

A Lawyer with Laundry, New York, New York, October 1988
A Lawyer with Laundry, New York, New York, October 1988
Photo: Joel Sternfeld
To view larger pictures of this and other Sternfeld images, launch the slideshow

July 7, 2001 -- So much of life is lived in the moments between "events," the dawdling before "important" occurrences -- in the anticipation, or the dread. Joel Sternfeld knows this phenomenon, knows how to take its picture.

His portraits -- large, bright, honest -- tell people stories about themselves that they've never seen before, stories they've often passed on the way to somewhere else.

In his book On This Site: Landscape in Memoriam, Sternfeld, a born New Yorker, depicts places throughout the country where historically important (and often violent) events took place.

His haunting geographical portraits include the motel where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and Long Island's picturesque Rockaway Peninsula where 10 Chinese immigrants drowned trying to reach the shore.

A Critical Analysis

"Despite the information contained in how we look, we could be almost anybody. And if we tend to hate people who pigeonhole us based on appearances, we're also grateful when someone sees us accurately without summing up too comfortably. Sternfeld is that kind of observer; he sees, but he leaves the conclusions up to others -- to history, maybe, or to God. Neither the best nor the worst that a person can be is ruled out automatically. On the questions of the content of a particular human soul, he maintains a strong agnosticism."

Writer Ian Frazier, on artist Joel Sternfeld

The images are captured long after the events themselves have slipped from the headlines and even the national consciousness.

But Sternfeld's work is important precisely because his portraits are not newsworthy. They are tributes to those steering their lives through the everyday, the moments ignored, the places passed by.

Sternfeld's current exhibit, "Stranger Passing," presents 65 of his color portraits in large-scale format. It is on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art until October 2, 2001.

The exhibit is in conjunction with the July 2001 release of his new book, Stranger Passing.

Links and Resources:

Visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art online at

SFMOMA's Web pages devoted to Sternfeld's Stranger Passing