This little known American photographer (1936 - 2010) left behind a delicate body of work in which he tenderly recorded the movements of passers-by and the textures of cities. An exhibit of his work is currently on display at the Stephen Daiter Gallery in Chicago.
It's as if he had a predilection for steps— the steps taken by people who walk and the movement their legs make as they travel the streets. Joseph Sterling clearly liked to capture the trajectories of big city people, such as shoes that take a sudden detour on a sidewalk next to an idle pigeon or running children rushing into the nook of a building. His photographs alternate between the blurriness of people passing by and the sharpness of faces.
Sterling, who was born in Texas, discovered photography in his early teens. It was thanks to a single image by Harry Callahan that he developed a passion for the medium and decided to go attend art school in Chicago to study under Callahand himself (his mentor) as well as two other prominent figures in the photography world at the time: Aaron Siskind and Frederick Sommer.
Those teachers surely influenced his work, for, like them, he showed a fondness for the textures of the world and enjoyed acitvating his device at the sight of damaged surfaces, fragile bodies, or bright lights reflected on the window of a store. Like them, he tried to capture the daily ballet of American cities and the streams of passers-by that populate their streets.
At school, Joseph Sterling also interacted with future big names in photography, namely Ray Metzker, who also favored an aesthetic of deep, vivid black and whites and enjoyed playing with the forms he encountered. Sterling remained discreet, almost secretive, throughout his life and left behind a work reflective of his own image: silent, enigmatic and sensitive.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Stephen Daiter Gallery
Through February 29, 2020
230 W Superior St, Chicago, IL 60654, United States