Many photographs that exploit the mobility and ease of hand–held cameras are presented as spontaneous observations. In other pictures it is obvious that the photographer has confronted the subjects or asked them to pose. A distinctive aspect of Steinmetz's work is the delicacy with which he has explored the spectrum between these two poles.
In the early 1990s, Steinmetz began what would become an extensive series of photographs made in and near Knoxville, Tennessee, many of which describe isolated individuals. The subject is rarely doing much more than smoking a cigarette, drinking a cup of coffee, or responding to the photographer. But the pictures have a grave and deliberate quality that creates an indelible impression of human presence.
This picture from the Knoxville series is an exception, for something very dramatic might be happening. Was the man in this photograph in anguish, or did the photographer sense that he could create an image of anguish from a more ordinary circumstance? The picture alone cannot provide the answer, but part of its power resides in the question.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 135.