For the past twenty years Henry Wessel has made doggedly unpretentious photographs of the way vernacular America looks. With this most recent work, made during 1990 and 1991 and his first sustained project in color, Wessel returns full force to the subject of his earliest interest. As a fourteen year old, in 1956, Wessel was fascinated by the polaroids and 8×10 glossies displayed in his mother’s New Jersey real estate office, made by the sales staff to pique clients’ interest in the homes’ “curbside appeal.” The pictures were no more or less remarkable than those that appear in countless realtors’ windows today, but Wessel remembers liking the directness of the photographs as well as their subject: houses that people live in.
Grounded in the familiar conventions of “real estate photography,” Wessel’s portraits of houses are records of ideals, ambitions, the exigencies of economics and hard-nosed pragmatism. Wessel respects the individuality of his subjects. Each has an explicit personality and every detail (or lack thereof) is acknowledged as the product of someone’s conscious decision. In Wessel’s view, the architecture of these houses reflects the human beings who built and live in them as distinctly as genetics define a face.
Wessel is the recipient of two Guggenheim fellowships and three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; George Eastman House, Rochester, and many others.
The gallery has published a thirty-two page catalog, with 25 color reproduction to accompany this exhibition.