Henry Wessel has been photographing the American West, particularly California, since the 1960s. Read on to find out about his unique take on things and how he managed to really captivate the essence of the US of A.
Wessel moved from New York to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1971 mostly because of the quality of light he encountered there. From stretches of highway to parking lots and bungalows framed by telephone poles and palm trees, Wessel’s images are often bare; his talent lying in the ability to capture and document the idiosyncrasies and irony of American life. Wessel found beauty and intrigue in the commonplace – his approach casual yet compelling.
Influenced by Walker Evans and Robert Frank, Wessel followed in their footsteps and set out on several road trips across the USA. Unlike Ansel Adams or Edward Weston, Wessel was not interested in capturing untouched and idealised views of nature. Instead, he made sure to record man’s mark on the American West.
While photographers preceding him, including Wessel’s mentor Garry Winogrand, pushed their prints to the darker end of the spectrum, Wessel developed an aesthetic based upon brightness. By over exposing and then under-developing his negatives, he produced prints that exploded with light: an approach now mimicked by digital methods.
Wessel lives and works in Point Richmond, California. His photographs can be found in the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, New York; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
A collection of Wessel’s photos was recently exhibited at Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York.
You can read more about Henry Wessel online at Rena Bransten Gallery.