Mark Steinmetz (born 1961) is an American photographer who spent 11 years working as a photographer in a variety of summer camps. He would take pictures and act as a photography tutor. Out of that body of work came Summer Camp (Steinmetz, 2020) which is a collection of images taken between 1986 and 1997. They were collected into book format in 2019. Steinmetz comments for the book information that ‘certain things never changed …. there isn’t much difference between them in 1990 or 1965’. Despite the pictures being taken over a considerable time they maintain a consistent look, they are all black and white and mainly low key, however, some are portrait and some landscape format. The book tells a story from arrival at the camp, though the daytime activities, to evening to night-time and then departure and saying goodbye. There are no captions – but the story is clear. In most of the images the children are not looking at the photographer, simply getting on with having fun (or not). The book is divided into sections by blank pages, a pause in the story, a shifting mood. The overall feeling is one of wistfulness, of a gentle melancholy. Steinmetz himself had been to summer camp as a child/teenager and notes ‘At summer camp you find yourself in a different, unfamiliar world and you have no choice but to adapt’ (Rosen, 2020). This experience has a undoubtedly influence the images he took and the engaging mood of the book.
Steinmetz has also published another series on American youth – The Players (Steinmetz, 2015). These images are of teenage baseball players and were taken at a similar time to those in Summer Camp. The images have a similar feel, a mixture of awkwardness and bravado, together with the intense involvement in the moment that young people often show.
His other recent book – Carnival (Steinmetz, 2019) – concentrates on the people who are involved in the country fairs, and small circuses that travelled around America. The images were taken from 1982 – 2001 and appear timeless. They capture both the workers and the people there to have fun and show the same ability to be there but not be noticed, to take images that show the life, not the people looking at you. The book tells a story, moving though the day, with people outside the fair to night-time, (to see a range of images from this book see the Guardian article referenced below).
Almost all Steinmetz’s images are back and white. An exception seems to be some of his fashion images, although, even then, the majority are monochrome. They have a timeless feel, a gently told story. Even the images of an airline terminus and a flight remain quiet – a real challenge given the amount of noise in that environment. He is a wonderful storyteller with a gift for being anonymous to those around him.
Carnival: capturing all the fun of the fair across the US – in pictures (2019) In: The Guardian 14 November 2019 [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2019/nov/14/carnival-capturing-all-the-fun-of-the-fair-across-the-us-in-pictures (Accessed on 22 April 2020)
Rosen, M. (2020) Vintage scenes of life at an American summer camp. At: https://www.huckmag.com/art-and-culture/photography-2/vintage-scenes-of-life-at-an-american-summer-camp/ (Accessed on 22 April 2020)
Steinmetz, M. (2015) The Players. (s.l.): Nazraeli Press.
Steinmetz, M. (2019) Carnival. (s.l.): Stanley/Barker.
Steinmetz, M. (2020) Summer Camp. (s.l.): Nazrali Press.
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