HENRY WESSEL Continental Divide


On the occasion of two new publications by Henry Wessel to be released next year, Galerie Thomas Zander is pleased to present photographs from his series Continental Divide and Traffic on the Second Floor. Over the course of this career, which has started in the 1960s, Wessel (born in New Jersey in 1942, lives and works in California) has created a diverse oeuvre shaped primarily by his interest in American life and social landscape. As a representative of the New Topographics movement, Wessel investigates the dialectic relationship of nature and civilisation. This also prompted his interest in the Continental Divide, a trail running 5,000 kilometers between Mexico and Canada along the natural barrier of the hydrological divide of the Americas. Over the course of several years, Henry Wessel has criss-crossed the divide 34 times driving and photographing its changing landscape. From these trips resulted the portfolio Continental Divide, which compellingly evokes Wessel’s experience of the enormous vastness and emptiness of the American West. These subjective documentations have become timeless photographs of the twentieth century. The series Traffic is characterised by similar observations. In the early 1980s, Wessel found himself regularly commuting from Richmond, CA to San Francisco; he began to photograph his fellow commuters in their urban environment from his car window. Casting brief glances at parallel situations, these photographs express the coincidence, spontaneity, and the chaos of the everyday. They pointedly document an almost intimate privacy unfolding inside the other drivers’ cars and often extract a smile from the viewers. Wessel proves to be a keen observer of subtle incidents that can easily be overlooked, he captures the visual inconsistencies and physical presence of this country in strikingly laconic black-and-white photographs.


Henry Wessel is the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships and three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. His works have been widely exhibited, for example in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, among others. In 2014 the Tate Modern in London dedicated a solo exhibition to the artist. In 2016 two books on Wessel’s series Continental Divide and Traffic will be published by Steidl.

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