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Book Review: Upstate by Tema Stauffer

Combining poetic landscapes and interiors with portraiture, American fine art photographer Tema Stauffer explores the visually and historically complex community, culture and architecture of one of the oldest regions in America in her beautiful new monograph, Upstate.

The foreword and essay included in Upstate compliment each other and Stauffer’s photographs like a matched set. The pacing and layout of the book feels just right. Maybe it is the quiet, snowy morning in mid-March when this review is being written, but a quiet contemplative air about the book comes across without trite stereotype.

Stauffer’s color photographs leave the viewer with a sense of being there. Shot in natural light, taken over a long period of time, depicting scenes in different seasons – her portrait of the Hudson River area is an honest one. Some images evoke a quiet beauty and mystery emanating from the local architecture and artifacts. Scenes of urban and rural areas reflect upon the overlapping industrial and agricultural economies of upstate New York. Xhenet Aliu highlights in her foreword how in recent years the city of Hudson has revitalized itself as a tourist destination, the primary draw being its close proximity to New York City and its architectural charms. But we don’t see charming little antique shops, no baristas in sight. Stauffer shows us triple-decker houses and a diner scene, quietly preserving the historic energy of the authentic. 

… Tema Stauffer has produced an original body of work while acknowledging the histories and capabilities of her medium. Her treatments of the area’s landscapes and modest buildings often employ a dark and moody palette … The impression this produces is hushed, meditative, and nostalgic, suggesting a degree of timelessness, even as the precise detail made possible by the necessarily slow employment of large and medium-format film insists on the specificity of a particular moment in a particular place.” -Alison Nördstrom, photo historian and curator

Many ruins of post-industrial America have been photographed and written about, and an entire genre of “ruin porn” exists. Set aside that preconceived thought when taking in Stauffer’s evocative images. Upstate is a portrait of a place and a time; it just so happens to be in a rust belt state with a tremendous backstory. In her essay, Alison Nördstrom writes, “Even without people or buildings in them, the quotidian actions of people are evident in these images; their marks, and Stauffer’s respect for them, are essential to her humanistic approach.” She also remarks, “This is not “ruin porn,” nor does this series maroon us in the past. Stauffer’s earlier work concentrated on portraiture as a way to know a place, and both Paterson (2009-2014) and Ballad of Sad Young Men (2008) manifest the artist’s ability to connect with her subjects in a deeply human way… As we turn the pages of this strong and quiet book, it is Reggie, Mike and Peter who look back at us, and (it is) through them that Stauffer turns our gaze from the nostalgic past to the living present…”

Photographs by Tema Stauffer
Foreword by novelist Xhenet Aliu
Essay by photo historian Alison Nördstrom

Hardcover: 84 pages
33 color photographs
ISBN-13: 978-1942084594

Tema Stauffer is a photographer whose work examines the social, economic, and cultural landscape of American spaces. She received a 2014 CCNY Darkroom Residency for her documentary portrait series, Paterson, depicting residents of Paterson, New Jersey during the years following the economic crisis. She received her BA from Oberlin College and her Master’s degree in photography from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Stauffer is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography at East Tennessee State University. For more information, go to: http://temastauffer.com

About the publisher: Daylight is a non-profit organization dedicated to publishing art and photography books. By exploring the documentary mode along with the more conceptual concerns of fine art, Daylight’s uniquely collectible publications work to revitalize the relationship between art, photography, and the world-at-large. For more information, visit www.daylightbooks.org

About Cary Benbow

Photographer, Writer, Publisher of Wobneb Magazine

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