About the Photographer
American, b. 1946
"A painting, Gossage says, functions simply as an aesthetic object; it looks a certain way. But a photograph has an extra component; it functions as evidence-direct reflection of reality. Gossage plays on these preconceptions in works like 'The Illustrated Life of Johann Wolfgang von Geothe.'" — Rob Kenner 1989
Beginning in 1981 and continuing intensely throughout the 1980s, John Gossage photographed the city of Berlin from myriad angles and at all hours. "Checkpoint Charlie," from "The Illustrated Life of Goethe" is part of his tripartite series "The Berlin Projects" which involves a complex interaction of photography and collage. "The Illustrated Life of Goethe" series pairs Berlin photographs and pages from a copy of "The Life of Johann Wolfgang von Geothe: Fact and Poetry" the artist picked up at a flea market. (Each page from the book is an original and has not been re-photographed for the piece.) As Gossage does not read German, the text of the page does not necessarily bear any connection to the picture. Rather, he is interested in how photographs arranged with objects (in this case pages) interact, how they suggest different notions of truth and fact. "I'm not making collages," Gossage says of the piece, "I'm adding distractions." His goal was to give the photograph a new context while leaving the image intact to create a counterpoint. The composition also allows the image and text to be encompassed by its surrounding neutral space. Though each piece in the series uses a different page from a single book ("Checkpoint Charlie" uses page 207), they were all designed to be wall pieces which could be seen apart from one another.
John Gossage began working professionally as a photographer at the age of 14, shooting for local newspapers. By age 16 he began working for the New York Times photographing sport events, and shortly thereafter he was shooting for Esquire, Look, and Newsweek magazines. While working at Esquire, he worked with Diane Arbus who warned him that commercial photography was quite demanding and that he was too young to continue. By age 19, Gossage retired from commercial work and attended Walden School in Washington DC for two years. He studied with Lisette Model, Alexey Brodovitch, and Bruce Davidson from 1962 to 1964, attended photography meetings with Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, and Eugene Smith taught him how to print in a short but intensive time. Gossage headed the graduate program of art at the University of Maryland. In 1973, 1974, and 1978 he received National Endowment for the Arts photography fellowship grants. His photographs have been exhibited internationally. Gossage's works may be viewed in the monographs The Pond (1985) and Stadt des Schwarz (1987), as well as in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Cocoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC; Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson; and Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, among other institutions.