Mitch Epstein

Recreation in Color

Time is a precious commodity, and that is especially true for leisure time. Everyone uses their free time in their own way: alone or with others, for sport or for relaxation, at home or on travels. An entire industry nowadays thrives on designing activities for long or shorter breaks. Leisure time also has a cultural dimension: the English gather in pubs, Spaniards take a “paseo”, or stroll, through the streets, Italians get together with the whole family, Brazilians go to the beach, while many people in Asia immerse themselves in meditation.

In his collection of photographs, “Recreation”, Mitch Epstein shows the American way of spending leisure time: 66 color photographs take a subtle look at American recreation culture in the 1970s and 1980s – “before pleasure was commodified”. Mitch Epstein found the innocent motifs for his photos on his road trips: motels with swimming pools, airport lounges, urban situations and rural scenarios where people are waiting or just taking time out. “Recreation is not one thing – it’s a state of mind,” he explains. Accordingly, his photographs cover a wide range of situations: they depict anticipation and a new beginning, but also bizarre circumstances and desolateness, because sometimes people just don’t seem to know what to do with the time on their hands. Some of the moments Mitch Epstein captures with his camera are very private. “To me, the whole project represents the loss of something. It shows a time when we were more optimistic. There was a sense of freedom.”

Mitch Epstein doesn’t see himself as a documentary photographer, but as an artist; he creates a new image of reality, not just a copy. “I am compelled to interpret, not record the world around me.” His pictures document how carefree people were in those days and demonstrate the sheer boundless freedom that photographers had – a freedom that has been curbed by the ever-increasing voyeurism of the media. The pictures in “Recreation” were taken at the outset of Mitch Epstein’s career: “Photography is a language – and I had to use it.” Over the past 30 years, he has developed and refined this language. He takes photographs in much the same way as he talks: deliberately and precisely. The American is one of the pioneers of color photography. He uses it as a matter of course: “It’s a natural thing to use color as it is part of the world – color provides information.” Mitch Epstein creates self-contained visual realms through his use of color and composition, and fulfills his credo: “It’s about making pictures that have a life of their own.”

Biographical information


born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, USA


studied at Union College, New York


studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence


studied at The Cooper Union, New York


Epstein started travelling throughout the United States


travelled to India: he collaborated on and produced several films such as “Salaam Bombay!” and “India Cabaret”


travelled six times to Vietnam

1999, 2001

gave lectures as Associate Professor of Photography at School of the Arts, Winston-Salem, North Carolina and at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York


awarded with the Fellowship of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

lives and works in New York City