Published On: Fri, Aug 5th, 2022

Review: ‘Recreation,’ by Mitch Epstein

In 2005, the American photographer Mitch Epstein published a book of photographs of American people, from New York to Los Angeles, Dallas to Gary, Ind., between the early 1970s and the early 1990s. A new, updated edition of RECREATION (Steidl, $85), edited by Susan Bell and Ryan Spencer, includes 34 previously unseen images, creating an expanded portrait of a nation at various forms of leisure.

Among the first to introduce color photography into the realm of fine art, Epstein captured individuals and groups in a variety of downtime activities: a couple pausing to window-shop outside a boutique in New Orleans, a raunchy performance at a Los Angeles nightclub, a group of men peeking into a Midtown Manhattan construction site, nude beachgoers on Martha’s Vineyard. His photographs evoke an unusual array of emotions; they’re funny and melancholy, contemplative, nostalgic and a bit lonely. Together these scenes paint a portrait of late-20th-century anomie, of a world without filters, selfies or self-consciousness.

These photos run the gamut from stillness to chaos, but always we seem to be catching people in moments of privacy — a concept all but foreign to Epstein’s viewers today. We feel removed from the subjects, as if spying on them from a distance, gazing voyeuristically at these enviably authentic moments from the past.

Erica Ackerberg is a photo editor at the Book Review.

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