Stephen Wirtz Gallery is pleased to present The Jangs by Michael Jang, an exhibition of photographs taken of the artist’s immediate and extended family during the 1970s. Unseen in an exhibition context for 40 years, The Jangs has been newly mined for contemporary viewership.
The Jangs presents a look into the lifestyle of a Chinese-American family in the context of the American mainstream of the 70s, a cultural view largely unseen in the photography of the era. While other photographers were critically investigating American suburbia as a crucial subject, Jang responded with his own unique approach. By delving deeply into the daily lives of his own family and relatives, he captured sharp, spontaneous, and intimate images that reveal a singular view of America, one in which issues of suburban dystopia and clashing cultures are overwhelmed by his family’s joyful embrace of the American experience.
The series began in 1973 while Jang, then a student at Cal Arts, was on summer break and taking a workshop with Lisette Model in San Francisco. Living at the Pacifica home of his relatives, Jang had familial access to agreeable subjects in his Uncle Monroe, Aunt Lucy and his three cousins. Taking pictures in the spirit of casual family snapshots, Jang responded to ordinary moments in the daily lives of his extended relatives. We see them in the living room watching television, dancing at parties, watering the garden, and setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July. Collectively and retrospectively, his photographs operate within a larger social and historical context, offering a warm and often humorous portrait of one family’s ongoing assimilation into American culture, evinced with optimism, wonder, and wit. In them, Jang goes beyond documenting the Chinese-American experience to show us a family that is almost prototypically American.
According to Jang, “For most of us it’s really hard to photograph our own family. You’ll get the hand with a ‘don’t take my picture.’ Plus, things become invisible when you’ve lived with them your whole life. So I found that photographing relatives was a profoundly different experience. Every day was a new visual discovery. I saw things fresh for the first time and responded voraciously.”
Jang grew up in the Gold Rush town of Marysville and received his BFA at Cal Arts and MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute. At the time, Jang was largely influenced by the street photography of Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. Works from The Jangs series were recently acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.