About the Photographer
American landscape photographer Joe Deal gained widespread acclaim after his inclusion in the seminal 1975 exhibition, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. This exhibition, which also featured the work of Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and five others, formalized a new approach to landscape photography that broke with the romantic or preservationist inclinations of previous generations. As curator William Jenkins described, Deal and his contemporaries assumed a viewpoint that was "anthropological rather than critical, scientific rather than artistic," and took "great pains to prevent the slightest trace of judgment or opinion from entering their work." While favoring a quasi-objective approach to picture making, New Topographics photographers also turned away from the usual subject matter of landscape photography, casting their eyes on humankind's constructions and interventions in the land, rather than the sublime vistas of unspoiled wilderness typical of nature photography at the time.
In the years following this exhibition and throughout the 1980s, Deal photographed extensively in Southern California along the earthquake-prone San Andreas Fault. The resulting photographs of new housing developments, suburban yards, the nearby desert landscape, and other adjacent locales represent an extended document of the settlement and growth of this volatile region. Deal's pictures also give shape to a larger theme: the push and pull between human expansion and the natural world. In Magic Mountain, Valencia, California (1977), for instance, the bright white skeletal structure of a rollercoaster stands out against the otherwise subdued tones of its surroundings, while mirroring the shape of the mountains visible in the distance.
Born in Topeka, Kansas, Deal completed a BFA in design at Kansas City Art Institute (1970) and went on to complete MA and MFA degrees in photography at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (1974, 1978). From 1976 to 1989 he taught photography at the University of California, Riverside, and for the following ten years he was a professor and dean at Washington University in St. Louis. In 1999 Deal joined the faculty of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, serving as provost until 2005 and subsequently as a professor of photography.