Promise Land is a poignant elegy to the ghosts of failure that stalk the American Dream.
Structures in various states of decay peek out from behind branches, creepers, trees and water, embedded in the natural world that threatens to overtake them. These abandoned homes are as vessels devoid of functionality, yet continuing to exude the personalities of their former inhabitants; they stand as sentries guarding their memories and whispering their aspirations.
Sternbach’s formal approach rewards the viewer with singular portraits not only of derelict homes, but also of the encroaching landscapes that surround them, becoming poetically entwined and indistinguishable from each other. Sumptuously photographed in the rural east end of Long Island, (a storied retreat for the wealthy of New York, but also belonging to the local community known as Bonackers), the pictures reflect on states of transition: the changing economic times, the forward march of unbridled nature that endures beyond man and the man-made, and the inevitable transience to which we are all subject.
The power of the work lies not only in the documentation of its subject matter, but in its ability to convey so succinctly, and without sentimentality, the cultural significance of Home as refuge, as status symbol, as identity. The promise and subsequent failure embodied in these homes reveal the very fine divide between these two seemingly disparate states. Though a ‘Promised Land’ actually exists in Napeague, Long Island, Promise Land becomes a larger, more reflective study of a society in transition, viewed through each of its unique, gloriously idiosyncratic and constituent parts.
Naomi Itami May 1, 2013