Saturday, August 4, 2007

Accommodating Nature: The Photographs of Frank Gohlke

I recently purchased the new Frank Gohlke monograph, Accommodating Nature: The Photographs of Frank Gohlke. The mid-career retrospective of work gathered within is an impressive collection of one of America's most influential landscape photographers. At the heart of Gohlke's work lies a fundamental interest in the cultural geography of the United States. This was illustrated by his work with the New Topographics movement and echoed through future projects. Gohlke's work examines the contentious relationship between man and nature. His quiet, frequently lonely photographs depict the constructed world in diametric opposition to the natural world.

The tension exuded by these two antithetical realities is palpable in Gohlke's work, and specifically in his series Aftermath; which pairs photographs of various locations in Witchita Falls just after a devastating tornado with the same location a year later. Seeing these images presented in tandem highlights the cyclical nature of our relationship to this planet. In one respect, we have settled and developed the landscape with relatively little regard for the environment, and on the other hand we are ultimately at the mercy of that environment. This dichotomy is what I find the most stirring about Frank Gohlke's work.

Gohlke approaches the landscape with humanity, extending respect and dignity to the areas he photographs. In an essay that accompanies Accommodating Nature, Rebecca Solnit speaks of emotion in Gohlke's work:

"...Human beings are seldom in Gohlke's pictures, but their history in always present, more poignant and more telling as traces-even the photograph of an elderly woman standing in the tended land around her house conveys as much to us by those long tilled rows, those traces of care and toil, as her presence does."

There will be a travelling exhibit of Accommodating Nature which will open at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas on September 15th. More dates for future stops on the tour can be found here.

From Top to Bottom:

A Woman watering her garden, near Kirkville, Mississippi, 1986

Aftermath: The Wichita Falls, Texas , Tornado No. 19A and 19B - 4679 University, looking west, 1979/1980.

Hillsboro, Texas, 1978

All Images Copyright Frank Gohlke