Mitch Epstein, Cocoa Beach I, Florida, from the series Recreation, 1983. Chromogenic print, 20 x 24 inches.
Mitch Epstein, Dallas, Texas, from the series Recreation, 1974. Chromogenic print, 20 x 24 inches.
Mitch Epstein, Glacier National Park, Montana, from the series Recreation, 1988. Chromogenic print, 20 x 24 inches.
Mitch Epstein, Jacob Riis Park, Queens, NYC, from the series Recreation, 1974. Chromogenic print, 20 x 24 inches.
Mitch Epstein, Los Angeles II, California, from the series Recreation, 1974. Chromogenic print, 20 x 24 inches.
Mitch Epstein, New Orleans I, Louisiana, from the series Recreation, 1974. Chromogenic print, 20 x 24 inches.
Mitch Epstein, Santa Monica II, California, from the series Recreation, 1974. Chromogenic print, 20 x 24 inches.
Mitch Epstein, Vietnam Veteran's Parade, New York City, from the series Recreation, 1973. Chromogenic print, 20 x 24 inches.
For five decades, the photographer Mitch Epstein has taken the American scene as his subject. His iconic images of the nation at leisure in a pre-selfie, pre-digital era will be on view at Yancey Richardson from February 23 through April 8, 2023. Titled Recreation, the exhibition portrays American celebrations, rituals, competitions, travel and other pursuits from the 1973 to 1988. With a wry and subtle wit, Epstein presents a late 20th century America seeking fun and relaxation in ways that are compelling, joyful, and sometimes questionable. The complete series of Recreation was recently published in a new updated edition (Steidl, 2022), which expands on the first edition published by Steidl in 2005.
Speaking recently about Recreation, Epstein noted, the work “came out of my excitement about pictures, being out in the world, in places where people were engaging with different kinds of leisure activities. The world itself was less self-conscious. It was pre-digital… There was something more free about it.”
Filled with a raw energy, the photographs in the exhibition offer an empathetic nod. Veterans in dress uniform gather for a Vietnam war parade in New York City. Binocular-toting tourists study mountainous vistas in Glacier National Park. Car campers hang out in Cocoa Beach. Jubilant partygoers squeeze into an elevator in Dallas. Acrobats launch through the air in Santa Monica. Half-naked bodies pack together on a Queens, NY beach. In several highly complex compositions, Epstein squeezed an extraordinary amount of information into the frame. Each image documents a certain time and a place that are no longer.
One of the few photographers working in color in the 1970s, Epstein reveled in a highly saturated palette, using color to emphasize the kinetic energy of the images. While a student at Cooper Union in New York City, Epstein’s professor, the influential photographer Garry Winogrand, told him, “Put color film in the camera. Forget about the fact that you have color.” Notes Epstein, “It became part of my language. The world is in color, so why not photograph in color. It was really that simple.”
Mitch Epstein (born 1952 in Holyoke, MA) has gained renown over the last 50 years for photographing the culture, landscape, and “American-ness” of the United States.
He has won numerous awards including the Prix Pictet (2011), Berlin Prize (2008), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2003). He was inducted into the National Academy of Design in 2020. His work has been exhibited and published widely in the United States and Europe. His 17 books include Silver + Chrome (Steidl, 2022), Recreation (Steidl, 2022 and 2005), American Power (Steidl, 2009) and Family Business (Steidl, 2003). His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and Tate Modern, London. In 2022, Epstein exhibited his photographs and films (Salaam Bombay! and India Cabaret) at Les Rencontres d'Arles in the 12th century Abbey of Montmajour, Arles, France. He lives in New York City.