Photographer Andy Sweet’s South Beach of the late 1970s
Shtetl in the Sun
If not for a family discovery of boxes of 8x8-inch work prints, photographer Andy Sweet’s body of work might have been lost forever. The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU has opened the first solo exhibit of Sweet’s photography, “Shtetl in the Sun: Andy Sweet’s South Beach 1977-1980,” which runs through June 23.
In 1977 Sweet and his friend and photographic partner Gary Monroe began a long-term project to photograph the Old-World Jewish culture that was predominant in South Beach. At the time, South Beach was home to more than 20,000 Jewish retirees in an area not much larger than two square miles. In an era when color photography was hardly viewed as serious art, Sweet used color unapologetically and to its full potential to capture subjects who in their later years were gloriously full of life.
Tragically, Sweet was found murdered in his apartment in 1982, stabbed to death at age 28. Subsequently, boxes of his prints and negatives were lost by a storage facility. In 2006, Sweet’s sister, Ellen Sweet Moss, and her husband, Stan Hughes, discovered boxes of test prints and contact sheets. Using digital techniques, Hughes has painstakingly restored the images, and the couple established the Andy Sweet Photo Legacy to ensure his images would be accessible to others.
Andy Sweet’s work inspired the recently released film “The Last Resort” by Dennis Scholl and Kareem Tabsch, and the book “Shtetl in the Sun: Andy Sweet’s South Beach 1977-1980” by Brett Sokol. National Book Award finalist Lauren Groff delved into his story, writing “The Brightest Still the Fleetest” for Oxford American.
The exhibition will feature a look inside the artist’s working process, with more than 60 images handpicked by Sweet’s family as well as archival materials, shown for the first time, including some of Sweet’s original Hasselblad cameras, photo contact sheets hand-noted by Sweet, and more. Programming surrounding the exhibition includes an evening with Ellen Sweet Moss and Brett Sokol, April 9.