Retrospective of Photographer Frank Gohlke Organized by the Amon Carter Museum

Release date: 
April 24, 2007

FORT WORTH, Texas---A major mid-career retrospective of the artist Frank Gohlke will be on view at the Amon Carter Museum September 15, 2007--January 6, 2008, in the special exhibition Accommodating Nature: The Photographs of Frank Gohlke. A leading figure in American landscape photography, Gohlke takes pictures that explore how we live and build our lives surrounded by a natural world that rarely meets our ideals and expectations. Whether photographing Wichita Falls, Texas, where he grew up; the grain elevators that punctuate the vast spaces of the Midwest; changes brought by the 1980 volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens; or the neighborhoods of Queens, New York, Gohlke’s camera deftly captures the tension between humanity and nature, exploring how people adapt to the forces of nature both great and small, even within the confines of their own backyards.

Organized by John Rohrbach, senior curator of photographs at the Amon Carter Museum, the exhibition will travel to the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Mass., and the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Ariz. It is accompanied by a catalogue that features essays by Rohrbach, Gohlke, and cultural historian Rebecca Solnit.

“Frank Gohlke helped lead a fundamental shift in how we think about landscape art,” Rohrbach explains. “Early in his career he was one of an influential group of photographers who redefined American landscape not as grand vistas of untouched nature but as scenes shaped by the built environment. Since then he has consistently focused on how people across the United States shape their lives amidst a natural world that is beyond our full control. Gohlke does this with great empathy. He is a photographic poet.”

With 85 finely printed black-and-white and color photographs ranging up to 42-by-54 inches, Accommodating Nature surveys Gohlke’s career, beginning with his work that was included in the seminal 1975 New Topographics exhibition at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and continuing up through projects he is immersed in today. Early photographic explorations of his Wichita Falls childhood–his grandparents’ ranch, his suburban home, the architecture of his community–give way to architectural and landscape photographs he took across the Midwest from Minnesota to New Mexico. The show contextualizes two of Gohlke’s most heralded and compelling projects: his depictions of the destruction and rebuilding after a devastating tornado struck Wichita Falls in 1979, and his multi-year investigation of the effects of the massive volcanic explosion that blew off the top of Mount. St. Helens in 1980. (The volcano images were the subject of an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2005.) By focusing on renewal and regrowth rather than on disaster, they raise provocative questions about human agency and our compulsion to continuously reassert ourselves. The artist’s oversized color photographs of the Sudbury River in Massachusetts created between 1989 and 1992 eloquently capture the disconnect between the ideal of a bucolic, pastoral New England and the reality and complexity of an overgrown river that has been taken for granted. Photographs from commissions and grants from Mississippi to Queens, New York, close the presentation, drawing attention to people’s active accommodations to nature across wide stretches of the country, in rural and urban settings alike.

Gohlke has voiced his belief that American culture is out of balance, but his photographs do not assume an overtly political stance. Recognizing that nature and culture are equally powerful, he acknowledges our shared predicament rather than laying blame or suggesting solutions. He is more interested in the nature side of the human-nature relationship, revealing how the natural world continually retains its power over human affairs.

About Frank Gohlke

“What’s wrong with telephone poles anyway?”

This is the question Frank Gohlke (b. 1942) asks after explaining his early attempts at landscape photography. “I kept coming across all of these pesky telephone poles and wires and trailers and roads that weren’t supposed to be in a landscape picture,” he said.

Over a period of time, Gohlke concluded that he should not be required to go to places of astonishing natural beauty---like those depicted in the work of Ansel Adams---to take landscape pictures. “I’m more interested in what’s outside my door.”

Gohlke grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas, which lies 120 miles northwest of Fort Worth. He has photographed across the United States and in parts of Europe, but his art is deeply informed by the climate of North Texas, a land of steady wind, where hot summers and cold winters are punctuated by torrential spring thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes. His pictures take empathetic and at times wry visual note of people’s interactions with a natural world that rarely meets their ideals and expectations.

Gohlke received his BA from the University of Texas at Austin in English literature. At Yale University, where he received his MA in English in 1966, Gohlke met Walker Evans and then studied privately with Paul Caponigro. Gohlke’s photographs came to notice in the influential 1975 group exhibition New Topographics: Images of a Man-Altered Landscape at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, New York. Other photographers featured in this exhibition were Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore and Henry Wessel, Jr.

Gohlke has taught at Massachusetts College of Art; the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley College; the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the universities of Harvard, Princeton and Yale. As of September 2007, he is Laureate Professor of the University of Arizona and senior research fellow at the Center for Creative Photography, both in Tucson, Arizona.

In addition to the Amon Carter Museum, whose photography collection is one of the largest and most important in the country, he is represented in many private and public collections, including The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. He has been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Museum Hours

Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday: noon to 5 p.m.
Closed Mondays and major holidays.

Accommodating Nature: The Photographs of Frank Gohlke is organized by the Amon Carter Museum and is made possible in part by generous support from the Perkins-Prothro Foundation, Exelon Power, and the Vin and Caren Prothro Foundation.