Mitch Epstein photographs ‘Recreation’ in America

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 of Mitch Epstein photographs portrays American celebrations, rituals, competitions, travel and other pursuits from 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 Mitch Epstein photographs offer an empathetic nod. In several highly complex compositions, Epstein squeezed an extraordinary amount of information into the frame. Veterans in uniform gather for a Vietnam war parade in New York City. Binocular-toting tourists study mountainous vistas in Glacier National Park. 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. Each image documents a certain time and a place that no longer exists.  
 
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.”

ABOUT MITCH EPSTEIN

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.  

Mitch Epstein photographs have 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.

He lives in New York City.

ABOUT YANCEY RICHARDSON

Founded in 1995, Yancey Richardson represents artists working in photography, film, and lens-based media. The gallery is committed to working with museums, private institutions, leading art collectors, and other galleries to advance the careers of the artists they represent.

Their current program includes emerging photographers as well as critically recognized, mid-career artists such as Mitch Epstein, Ori Gersht, Anthony Hernandez, Laura Letinsky, Andrew Moore, Zanele Muholi, Mickalene Thomas and Hellen van Meene.

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