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Henry Wessel
A Walk

Henry Wessel.
Sunset Park, 1995-98.
© The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne Henry Wessel.
Sunset Park, 1995-98.
© The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne Henry Wessel.
New Orleans, 1982.
© The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne Henry Wessel.
Sunset Park, 1995-98.
© The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne Henry Wessel.
San Francisco, California, 1974.
© The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne Henry Wessel.
Santa Monica, 1988.
© The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne Henry Wessel.
Untitled, 1969.
© The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Henry Wessel. Sunset Park, 1995-98. © The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Henry Wessel. Sunset Park, 1995-98. © The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Henry Wessel. New Orleans, 1982. © The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Henry Wessel. Sunset Park, 1995-98. © The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Henry Wessel. San Francisco, California, 1974. © The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Henry Wessel. Santa Monica, 1988. © The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Henry Wessel. Untitled, 1969. © The Estate of Henry Wessel, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Moscow, 19.04—31.05.2019

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As part of the XI International Biennale "Fashion and Style in Photos 2019"
As part of the XI International Biennale "Fashion and Style in Photos 2019"

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Henry Wessel
A Walk

19 April 2019 — 26 May 2019

As part of the XI Moscow International Biennale of ‘Fashion and Style in Photography-2019’ the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow presents the exhibition ‘A Walk’ by American photographer Henry Wessel (1942–2018). On show are 148 images from the acclaimed series ‘California and the West’ (1969–1993), ‘Planes’ (1972), ‘Waikiki’ (1975–1983) and ‘Night Walk’ (1995–1998).

Henry Wessel was born in New Jersey and studied psychology at Pennsylvania State University. He became interested in photography after a chance encounter with ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ by John Szarkowski, the renowned American art historian, photographer and first head of the MoMA photography department, in an off-campus bookstore. Szarkowski’s ideas proved such a revelation for Wessel that he abandoned psychology and opened a small photo studio. Henry Wessel’s idols Eugene Atget, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand were forerunners and pioneers of a trend in American and European photography that combined street shots with architectural photography. Reaching its heyday in the mid-1970s, the genre was dubbed the New Topographics, after the exhibition of the same name in which Henry Wessel was a full participant.

Arising at a junction of genres, the New Topographics was based on the idea of mutual influence between man and the surrounding landscape, as a kind of psychological or humanistic architectural photography. Enthralled at the prospect of capturing ordinary American landscapes, the anonymous habitat that imperceptibly shapes the consciousness and lifestyle of the average American, Wessel set off on a journey through California.

Everything began with this trip. First, Wessel discovered ‘his’ camera, the 35mm Leica that was a faithful companion for the rest of his life; secondly, he moved to California, exchanging the eternal dull grey of the East coast for the contrasts of the West and a special relationship to the light that can be traced throughout his work; and, finally, Henry Wessel ventured to show the shots to John Szarkowski, who in 1973 organised his first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Just two years later Wessel’s pictures featured in the ground-breaking group show ‘New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape’ at the George Eastman Museum (Rochester), beside images by luminaries such as Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, Bernd and Hilla Becher. This exhibition articulated ideas that had been in the air for several decades, setting the foundation for the homonymous movement in photography.

For his project ‘The Photographic Documentation of the US Highways and the Adjacent Landscape’ Wessel was awarded the first Guggenheim Fellowship grant in the programme’s history (during his career he received two Guggenheim Fellowships and three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington). His works are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum (New York), Museum of Modern Art (New York), Victoria and Albert Museum (London), and others.

Wessel’s oeuvre encompasses desert landscapes of the American West and residential areas of big cities, local architecture and nature, provincial streets, gardens and backyards, houses, hotels, beaches... Snapping photographs directly from the window of his pickup, Wessel sought to momentarily become ‘integrated’ in the life flow of each town, to feel from the inside and convey the mood of every subject in a ‘neighbourly’ way.

Today Henry Wessel’s works have become classics of American art, challenging traditional concepts of documentary photography and giving a fresh perspective of the landscapes that surround us.

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