In 1959, photographer Joseph Sterling began a project that offered the world a front row view of the new forces that were reshaping American life, including political and sexual revolutions, experimental art, and rock and roll. Barely past his own adolescence, and armed with his camera, a sharp eye, and powerful observations, Sterling chose to document these cultural and historical shifts as embodied in America’s youth culture. He found America’s pulse by capturing the hopes, fears, confusion, and insecurities of its adolescents. In 2005, Greybull press published the results as The Age of Adolescence: Joseph Sterling Photographs 1959–1964. Today, his work is held in numerous private and public collections, including MoMA, George Eastman House, and The Art Institute of Chicago.
Sterling’s success as a photographer started at the Institute of Design (ID) in Chicago, where he received both a BS and an MS in photography under the instruction of the prominent photographers Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. The ID was first established by László Moholy-Nagy as the New Bauhaus in 1937, and its founding principles were based on the innovative curriculum of Walter Gropius’s original Bauhaus in Germany. The ID is considered the most important school to influence photography during the mid-twentieth century. Joseph Sterling and his classmates — Ray Metzker, Joseph Jachna, Charles Swedlund, and Kenneth Josephson — known as the ID 5, are an integral part of that legacy.
The Urbana Museum of Photography is proud to present Joseph Sterling’s Taste of Chicago, which documents the popular festival of the same name during the late 1980s. Thematically and atmospherically different from the Adolescence series, the Taste maintains a connection to the earlier work through the honest appraisal of the shared, public American experience, and in clever compositional symmetries. Many of the images evoke palpable sensory experiences, from the sticky hands and faces of children enjoying watermelon, to the anticipation of savory, barbecued meat. Others offer more thoughtful considerations, such as the physical manifestations of overindulgence, or the dignity of a child tethered to a safety leash.
Taste of Chicago is a limited edition series that has only been shown once before, in 2012, at Alibi Fine Art in Chicago. The work is on loan thanks to the generosity of Joseph Sterling’s widow, Deborah Sterling, and Adam Holtzman, the director of Alibi Fine Art. The Urbana Museum of Photography will display the show from June 14 through July 20, 2013, with an opening reception on June 22 at 6:00 p.m. The museum is located at 122A W Main St in Urbana, IL on the second floor. The museum is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m.–2 a.m. and admission is always free.