The Magical Malaise of Henry Wessel’s Waikiki

October 25th, 2011, byJeremy Freed

As discussed recently on In Search of the Cool, I quite enjoy art books. Also, photography. Of the latter, my favorite artists tend to be those who photograph humans and human environments without gloss, in all their imperfect perfection, using light and composition to create beautiful portraits of things and moments that might otherwise go unnoticed. Guys like William Eggleston and Garry Winogrand, to name a couple of great American examples.

Among these should be counted the work of Henry Wessel, a San Francisco-based photographer whose latest book, Waikiki, is a collection of photos from the famous Honolulu neighborhood taken mostly in the early 1980s. Rather than focusing on the carefully constructed tourism brochure images that normally come to mind, however, Wessel turns his lens on the denizens of Waikiki at their most candid, between moments, creating images that are unsettling and beautiful. His subjects rarely look into the camera or at each other, instead, often gazing away in thought or intent on some mundane action, while haloed by the spectacular Hawaiian light.

Waikiki is not just a collection of some of the finest of Wessel’s work, it’s also a unique look at a place and time in America, unflinching and without pretense. In my mind, that makes it a great piece of art.

Last modified: October 29, 2011 at 9:49 pm