Henry Wessel (b. 1942, Teaneck, N.J.) received a BA from Pennsylvania State University in 1966 and an MFA from the Visual Studies Workshop at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1972.
Since the 1960s, Wessel has photographed vernacular scenes of the American West and, in particular, California. Immediately drawn to the quality of light he encountered during a visit to Los Angeles, Wessel moved cross-country to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1971. From a small sign for ice in an empty desert landscape to modest California bungalows framed by telephone poles and palm trees, Wessel's often spare images capture the idiosyncrasies and irony of American life with a wry objectivity. His photographs of parking lots, beach-goers, and shrubbery -- all illuminated by the Western light Wessel loves -- find poetry in the commonplace and document the social landscape in a manner that is casual yet compelling.
For the past four decades, Wessel's work has been exhibited in the United States and abroad. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, hosted his first solo show, "Photography by Henry Wessel, Jr.," in 1972 and in 1975 Wessel was one of the eight photographers selected for the groundbreaking exhibition, "New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape," at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y. Other solo exhibitions include "Henry Wessel" at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1998); "Henry Wessel: Photographs" at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2007); and "Henry Wessel" at Die Photographische Sammlung, Cologne (2007).
His photographs can be found in public and private collections worldwide, such as the Art Institute of Chicago; the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Ariz.; the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, N.Y.; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the San Francisco Museum of Art; the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Wessel is the recipient of two John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowships (1971, 1979); two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1975, 1977); and a National Endowment for the Arts Survey Grant (1978). He is a resident faculty member of the Photography Department at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Monographs of Wessel's work include the multi-volume set Henry Wessel: California and the West / Odd Photos / Las Vegas / Real Estate Photographs / Night Walk (2005) and Henry Wessel (2007).
Wessel lives and works in Point Richmond, California.