New Color Photography, Abbeville Press 1981

New Color Photography, Abbeville Press 1981
"Enchantments, Mitch Epstein" (excerpts from a critical essay)
By Sally Eauclaire

Epstein's expert formal harmonizing may culminate in a sublime pictorial moment. In a photograph taken at Pohkara, Nepal (plate 135), a diagonal row of clay pots leads to a crackling center of orange blossoms that sweeps, in turn, to orange-tinged clouds. Green grass on each side modulates to a yellow-green—the necessary chromatic force to make the blossoms glow. Grays in the sky echo neutrals of the ledge; the white hat of a worker repeats the snowy peak of a distant mountain. Having learned to regulate the chromatic torrents that Ernst Haas and others mistook for "expressivity," Epstein has made his passion more potent...

Epstein's sensitivity to ethnic gesture—the manner in which Indian men wrap their arms around their knees or the way a woman's bent arm curves as she balances a jug—accords with western notions of grace and beauty. The nearly mythical quality of Epstein's rendition of a camel caravan (plate 136) derives less from smoke-caused diffusion than from an arrangement of figures that seems to realize the ideal structural possibilities of the photograph...

Not all of Epstein's work is pure play. It is not unusual to find an undercurrent of psychic tension, which suggests that Prospero has intruded upon Ariel's realm. The figures huddled against pink ceramics in Egypt brood in shadow. (plate 142) A tower in Egypt suggests the shape of a gallows. An approaching storm in Jamaica implies the apocalypse: tree leaves have fallen, lounge chairs sit abandoned, and an eerie peach cement spreads like lava over steps, paths, and rocky terrain. (plate 141) While visually sublime, such photographs seem portentous, as if about to erupt with a cruel reality that will encroach upon enchantment.