The gray lays on top of everything like a heavy blanket, begins Doug Rickard for his poetic look at Georgia-based photographer Mark Steinmetz.
It is almost as if the suffocating gray that inhabits the insides of these people has slowly spilled out from in them to seep into everything around them… covering every object, every thing… every lie, every truth… every hope, every dream. Or is it the other way around? The gray that blankets the whole town, that blankets the woods, that shadows the sky, that creeps into the open areas… does this gray work its way into them or them into it? 1
Mark Steinmetz glides along, through the belly of these American things, he finds the cycles and the undertones… the vibes that emanate from these strangely American places, the people and the objects that make them, the stories and the feelings, the life that breaks them. The broken wills and the lost hopes, the disappearing dreams of the growing young blanketed over by the failures of the calloused common. The average man doing average dead end things and their average dead end streets. The emptiness inhabiting the empty places, the gray blanketing the living… the streets and the trash, their homes and no cash, their blocks and their dead ends. There are streaks of empty light but the streaks are shrouded by the coming clouds and the muffled cries… the skies – no blue… only colorless gray. The metal tracks, the sounds of the train and the black wet dirt, the cyclone fences, the metal cans, the baby crying, no laughter, only hurt. The southern, the eastern, the south… no west… 1
There is certainly a lot of gray. A lot of dense, disconcerting beautiful gray. Mark Steinmetz’s Winogrand-esque pictures are often disturbing and offbeat, and the combination of landscape and portraiture spins an unsettling feeling – the same feeling I get when looking at Diane Arbus’ pictures – without dipping into the abject or obviously horrific. It is this weaving of strange faces, romantic longings, and ex-urban landscapes (which are often populated by kitty cats) that I find not only strange, but familiar. The pictures never cease to evoke both a sense narrative and beauty.
“I want to show something of people’s inner lives,” Steinmetz says in an interview with Jorg Colberg. “I think for portraiture you have to be completely certain that you are interested in photographing this or that person. You can’t be wishy-washy in your motivation. You just have to know that you want to photograph this person and it’s a kind of knowing that eradicates any asking of ‘why?’ My approach is fairly low-key. I don’t want to make waves. I’ll just ask something like ‘Can I photograph you as you are?’ Sometimes I’ll give a little direction like ‘look over that way’ but it’s never elaborate.” 2
You can check out Steinmetz’s latest book, Greater Atlanta, from my flat file. The library has graciously ordered the out-of-print South Central, and I’ll be sure to let you all know when it arrives. Also, check out his website, which features over ten of his portfolios: MarkSteinmetz.net