Phel Steinmetz

Looking up Steinmetz (which was not easy since Sekula called him Philip A, and online he’s listed as Phel) I came across this photo:

From left – Allan Sekula, Fred Lonidier, Phel Steinmetz, and Martha Rosler, San Diego, 1976

They are almost in bed with each other! Small wonder then that Sekula’s politics seem to coincide with and echo those of Rosler, and in addition he lauds (promotes?) the progressive work of his buddies Lonidier and Steinmetz! Apparently they are known collectively as the ‘San Diego group’.

I can find little information online about Steinmetz, and nothing about the specific project that Sekula mentions. Since I am not a fan of autobiographical work, this is probably just as well! On the other hand, I did turn up an interesting project that Steinmetz has on his website about the border between Mexico and USA: the website uses flash player, so the individual images cannot be downloaded, but maybe that’s a good thing, since the project is holistic and needs to be considered in its entirety. The subject is illegal crossing of the border – the title means ‘the road northward’ – and the slideshow features photographs intercut with factual data about migrant worker programmes and statistics on death by dehydration – stating the case for an easing of the tight regulations, which in turn would reduce the numbers of illegal attempts to cross the border that end tragically. The photographs themselves are not technically or artistically ‘polished’, and the content is more inferential as opposed to illustrative – focusing on the traces of people rather than the people themselves, so we see discarded empty water bottles in the desert or under a bridge, or a pile of dishes in the sink of a cafe or diner, and the message is clear; people are noticeably absent from the photographs – these are not the typical images of immigrants or would-be immigrants being arrested or in custody that are generally associated with such documentary projects. This project does not say to the viewer – look, this has to be stopped! We are being invaded by illegal aliens and our security is at stake! This is one of the few photographic projects that has actually made me reconsider my stance of image first, text secondary. Unfortunately Steinmetz died so it is no longer possible to get in touch, since I really believe he has struck on something with this project and its approach. I’d like to do something similar for this major project.

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