Joseph Sterling: Age of Adolescence

6 June - 11 July 2009

M+B Gallery is pleased to announce THE AGE OF ADOLESCENCE, an exhibition of provocative and expressive images by the groundbreaking documentary photographer JOSEPH STERLING, beginning on June 6 and running through July 11. Armed with keen insight, empathy and masterful photographic skills, Sterling took to the streets of Chicago from 1959 to 1964, beginning as a graduate student, to look into the hearts of Chicago’s youth. At the time, the country was as adolescent as the kids he captured and on the brink of the era of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Against the backdrop of the city’s commanding architecture, the teenagers play out their good times and bad in front of his camera, unashamedly exposing their insecurities, playfulness and latent sexuality.

Even though Sterling shot these lucid, emotionally charged, black and white images at the very beginning of the sexual and political revolution, you can see the tension, confusion and bravado in the kids’ faces as they grapple with barely understood social undercurrents. With the quintessential 50’s look, the greasers and their faux sultry girlfriends hang out on corners, in cars and on beaches, trying to be cool and to find companionship and meaning in their lives. Their eyes and postures reveal the contradictory wistfulness for lost childhood and the weight of adult expectations.

Schooled by the legendary photographers Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan and Frederick Sommer at the Institute of Design in Chicago, Sterling empathized with his subjects’ desires and frustrations, concerns and pleasures while totally immersing himself in their lives, documenting for all time a significant period in our history.

Sterling has enjoyed a long and illustrious career in photography. After graduating from the Institute of Design in 1962, he continued with “The Age of Adolescence,” but also pursued a career as a magazine and corporate/industrial photographer, while developing other personal projects. His photographs can be found in many publications and books, among them Aperture Magazine, Time Life's "This Fabulous Century," The Oxford History of Western Art (England), Visions Magazine (China), Numero Magazine (France), among others.

An esteemed teacher, Sterling established the photography department at Columbia College of Chicago and also taught at the Institute of Design and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been widely exhibited throughout the United States, Canada and Europe and is in numerous collections such as MoMA, San Francisco MoMA, George Eastman House, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago) and the Center of Photography, Tokyo Institute of Polytechnics. In 2005, Sterling's monograph The Age of Adolescence: Joseph Sterling Photographs 1959-1964 was released by Greybull Press with an exceptional introduction by former curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, David Travis.