I’m exactly the wrong person to review Sarah Stolfa’s book of photographs, The Regulars. Her portraits of patrons at a Philadelphia dive are simply candy to someone like me who loves any portrait—a blurry iPhone snap, a 17th-century Dutch likeness in oils—better than any other kind of picture. But believe me, Stolfa’s photos are special.
First, there’s the context: Each person is framed, usually dead-on, with his or her bottle or glass in the foreground. And for each one, Stolfa locates the particular state of being that results from being in a bar—the self that is solitary, calm, maybe waiting, possibly drunk. Then there’s the light: The subjects are believably lit as one would be in a bar, and yet Stolfa has managed to create lush tones and contrasts that enliven the space, draw in the viewer (and really make you want to visit McGlinchey’s).
Best of all, these are living people, and Stolfa lets them be that. She doesn’t try to turn them into props, aestheticizing them out of real existence. They’re alive, they’re drinking, they’ll probably be back tomorrow, and that’s beautiful enough.