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Joe Sobel

17 October 2010
By Sean

This weeks featured photographer is Joe Sobel.  I’ve known Joe for several years now.  In the Winter semester of 2009, Joe and I were in the same photography seminar course at Northern Michigan University.  From the outset of that course, Joe’s work was striking.  He was the most junior of all of us, but his work was, arguably, the most mature in it’s approach and methodology.

It didn’t matter what he shot, it was keen, fresh and almost always fostered the most interesting discussions.  The series that I’m presenting today was born in that class.    Our professor constantly encouraged us to step outside our comfort zones, to see our environments as an outsider would and to pay scrutiny to our assumptions.  More than any of us , Joe did that.  (If anyone from that class is reading this, please forgive me if you disagree)

I got to watch this concept unfold from the initial couple of images to the massive series that it is today.  I remember the first day he brought a few of these images in for critique.  He appeared to be slightly apprehensive, but confident in the work.  The apprehension was undue as the images were well received and further work was encouraged by at least most of us, but probably all of us.  He worked and worked and worked on the series.  Printing more and more of them.  His ability to speak about this body of work improved with each critique.  This tireless effort paid off for him as he now working towards an MFA at Cranbrook.  (If you’re not familiar with Cranbrook, you should be.  It’s one of the top art schools in the country, especially it’s photography program.)

About the work.  As you, no doubt, noticed his subjects are the undesirables, the unclean.  They are society’s castaways and forgotten ones.  These people are reflections of the conditions (physical and mental) in which they live – poverty, dependence, mental illness.  When we walk by them on the streets we hardly pay them a glance, but when we do it’s often judgmental.  We take a step to the side to be certain we are clear of the dirt and grime and the craziness that we know isn’t transmissible, but all the same is best to avoid.

These images, like the subjects have the faint patina of the grotesque.  Instead of focusing on a sense of universality, Joe “emphasize[s] that stigmas placed on marginalized individuals throughout history have not completely disappeared in today’s so-called, enlightened society” and considers these individuals deviants by our design.  After all these people are largely incapable of conforming to our mores and standards because our societal models ostracize unfavorable attributes.  Because of this they are neglected by society and forced into asocial roles – seen, but not likely to interact.  Although a formal title to the series does exist (“Distortions”), Joe refers to the people as “Out of the Societal Sense.”

I believe Joe is going somewhere and I believe that he will accomplish some very great things with photography.  He’s a newcomer, but he’s diligent.  His work is strong and compelling and it will mature even more.  I’m excited to see what Cranbrook is capable of digging out of him.  I’m going to keep tabs on what he’s working on and I think you should too.

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3 Responses to Joe Sobel

  1. Holden Caulfield on 15 May 2012 at 11:40 am

    “As you, no doubt, noticed his subjects are the undesirables, the unclean.”

    No, I hadn’t noticed, but now that you mention it…what nauseating arrogance. My goodness, how pink and freshly powdered you must be!
    I’ve never noticed your kind in my journey through New England prep school, college, at the country clubs, at Mensa meetings…pray tell, where does someone so grotesque find cohorts?

  2. Sean on 18 October 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Thank you for the kind words Mr. Sobel.

  3. Paul Sobel on 17 October 2010 at 7:32 pm

    I consider myself a non-artist although I appreciate fine art. In fact, I would say that I absolutely love fine art and the fine arts. My mother was an artist and fine one at that. To say that I am proud of my son would be a gross understatement but to say anything more grandiose than what has been stated by the author above would sound self-serving. I just want to say how much this article brings joy to my wife, Lupe, and me. I believe that the world benefits from fine art and fine artists. But it is always about the art–never about the artist. I am so pleased that your article did both. Thank you from an art-loving father.
    Paul Sobel

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