Book Review: On This Site: Joel Sternfeld

OnThisSite_cover copy

Between 1993 and 1996, Joel Sternfeld photographed 50 infamous crime sites around the United States. This latest Steidl book On This Site, which was originally published in 1996 contains intense colour images of these unsettlingly everyday locations, ordinary landscapes left behind after personal tragedies, their hidden stories disturbingly invisible and often forgotten.

Each photograph is accompanied by a text describing the crime that took place at the location. But how Sternfield came to create such a body of work is perhaps best described by Sternfeld himself. “I went to Central Park to find the place behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) where Jennifer Levin had been killed. It was bewildering to find a scene so beautiful … to see the same sunlight pour down indifferently on the earth. As I showed the photograph of this site to friends, I realized that I was not alone in thinking of her when walking by the Met.

It occurred to me that I held something within: a list of places that I cannot forget because of the tragedies that identify them, and I began to wonder if each of us has such a list. I set out to photograph sites that were marked during my lifetime. Yet, there was something else that drew me to this work. I think of it as the question of knowability. Experience has taught me again and again that you can never know what lies beneath a surface or behind a façade. Our sense of place, our understanding of photographs of the landscape is inevitably limited and fraught with misleading.”

© Grant Scott 2012

On This Site: Joel Sternfeld
Steidl. £42.00
ISBN-13: 978-3869304342