Always on the look out for photographs old and new that have somehow escaped my radar. Henry Wessel is one of them. He seems to have taken many of his shoots around the late sixties onwards, concentrating on Southern California, New Mexico Arizona and Hawaii. My research indicates he’s a resident of San Francisco, having moved out to the West Coast in 1970.
Having lived in southern California I appreciate what Wessel has done.
If you’re shooting on the streets of New York there’s always something happening in front of you. Your only problem is how to make sense of the ever-moving chaos, as people turn and move and jostle and generally ruin your composition in the blink of an eye.
In southern California you’re problem is the reverse. It’s an absence of people and a distance from the subject that can lead to you just trying to find artsy ways of shooting bleached white buildings in harsh sunlight and cactus.
Wessel has a few of those shots but he also has a good eye for humor and extracts the maximum from the minimum he has in front of him. Bikini clad airheads are contrasted with hunched elderly folks. Aging, short shorts wearing men power down beaches with no self-consciousness, shirtless bodybuilders stare out from behind dark glasses. It’s a world instantly recognizable as California but not one the tourist board are going to use. These are the images of man who takes a wry distance from what he sees around him.
The Hawaiian shots are also stunning, mixing a kind of Edward Weston-esque interest in form with the wit that features in his Californian work.