by John Mendelsohn


A photograph is a moral document, attesting to a way for us to regard the world. A photographic image can seduce, indict, pierce, or deceive us, and thus tells us in turn the kind of attention we should pay to the life pictured in its images.


In Steven Poster's photographs we are taught these lessons in awareness, in ways both direct and subtle. He shows us the world as a panoply of striking vignettes, a graphically bold theater of images. In a rich tonal spectrum from white to black, Poster's photographs are pictures, using their compositional clarity to focus on the humor and strangeness that inform everyday reality.

The images are engaged with their subjects both visually and socially, seeing human behavior in specific cultural contexts. In work that ranges from storytelling to abstraction, critique to embrace, Poster may be telling us that no single way of seeing is enough to describe the world's beauty and oddness.


Poster's work clearly emerges from a personal vision and temperament: intuitive, immediate, and equally moved by irony and pathos. These emerge in images that juxtapose starkly contrasting qualities: hopes and fears, with the elderly man on the bench whose sign reads, "Get Lucky", or grandeur and narrowness, with a spectacular view of Mt. Rushmore compromised by a video screen in the visitors' center. The handwritten signs, one pointing to "Wedding", and the other to "Divorce", posted on the corner of Wonderland Avenue, seems to say it all.<br/>

In Poster work, there is a large capacity for a kind of wordless mystery, highly attuned to a specific sense of place. A wintry view of four horses next to a silhouetted barn has the feel of the final scene before the end of the world. A street in Tokyo, with a lone walker and a trio of illuminated advertising posters, is a meditation on life in our contemporary image world. And an outdoor Halloween party haunts us with that horror movie frisson of the Mardi Gras spirit that threatens to become too real.


Perhaps Poster's most moving images paradoxically are those that are the most still, finding in the midst of the hubbub of life a quiet moment of poignancy and humanity: the introspective young woman surrounded by tourist photographers in the Louvre; the young boy, in the vertiginous chaos of a restaurant floor, drawn to an accordion player; or the old man in a crowed car of the Paris Metro, who looks back at us, derelict and defiant.