About the Photographer
American, b. 1942
I was clear, however, about one thing: the grain elevators could not be considered in isolation from the landscape; the building and its context were inseparable. At the same time, I was beginning to realize that the landscape is not a collection of fixed objects on a static spatial grid but a fluid and dynamic set of relationships. – Frank Gohlke in Measure of Emptiness, 1991
Frank Gohlke’s black and white pictures of the American landscape confront the enduring and the transient elements of our surroundings. Within a year of moving to Minnesota, Gohlke’s fascination with a landmark of Midwestern landscape led to begin the grain elevator series. The pictures in the series, which lasted from 1972 to 1977, quickly evolved from a strictly aesthetic appreciation of forms to a rich reflection on the symbol and place of the elevators in a larger context. As in Grain Elevator, Series III, Bison, Oklahoma, Gohlke made a point of holding the camera straight and level in order to emphasize the strong vertical and horizontal axes of the region’s landscape, while minimizing lens distortion and other artifacts that would suggest the vision as a photographic construction at the expense of its power as a document. Over five trips in the decade following the 1981 eruption of Mount Saint Helens, Frank Gohlke produced quietly dramatic photographs of this natural disaster. A precise description of a post-apocalyptic landscape, Young trees killed by heat and downed by blast documents destruction as well as the photographer’s concern for the fragility of the earth.
Frank Gohlke was born in 1942 in Wichita Falls, Texas. A student of English literature, he received his BA from the University of Texas in Austin and his MA from Yale University (1966). Gohlke studied with photographer Paul Caponigro in 1967 and 1968. He was awarded John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowships in 1975 and 1984, and National Endowment for the Arts Photographer’s Fellowships in 1976, 1977, and 1986. Gohlke’s work gained special attention with its inclusion in the 1975 exhibition New Topographics: Images of a Man-Altered Landscape at the George Eastman House Inernational Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, New York. Today his work is represented in numerous national collections and has been shown in solo exhibitions at the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, Texas; Light Gallery, New York; and Museum of Modern Art, New York; as well as the traveling exhibition Landscapes from the Middle of the World (catalogue 1998), organized by The Museum of Contemporary Photography. Gohlke is the first American photographer to be commissioned by the French government-sponsored landscape survey, La Mission Photographique de la DATAR.