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To complete my list of ten photographers I admire (the black and white version) here are three photographers:   Emmet Gowin,  Lewis Baltz, and John Gossage.

Emmet Gowin makes beautiful photographs—simple images, and beautiful prints—of his family, and of the earth.  I think his work was some of the first I ever saw in a gallery with real prints—in Philadelphia in 1979 or so—and I know that his 1976 Photographs was the first real photo book I ever bought—I paid $18 for a slightly worn copy without a dust jacket–back in my days as a graduate student when that was a lot of money.  His use of split toning affected my sense of what a photographic print could be—a luminous object, unique, precious.

Emmet Gowin

Emmet Gowin

Lewis Baltz’s work has always seemed rigorous, precise, and damning, the presenting of evidence so effectively that protest seems pointless, the damage done so obvious and ubiquitous.  I remember seeing his images first as a undergraduate—the “Industrial Parks of Irvine, California”, then as a graduate student, seeing his images from Park City at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, and then purchasing “San Quentin Point”  at the Strand Bookstore in New York.   His work requires and rewards attention.

Lewis Baltz, Nevada

Lewis Baltz, Nevada

A few years ago, I had an hour or two to kill in San Francisco, and visited Candlestick Point, a Baltz landscape, photographed in the late 1980s, a landscape trashed by industry.  What I found was something resembling a park, a landscape scared but recovering, covered in flowers, a hang out for dog walkers and drug dealers.

John Gossage rounds out the list, my favorite work of his being “The Pond”, a book published in 1985, the title apparently a reference to Thoreau, but the book is a visual rant loosely organized around a neighborhood walk in some typically seedy suburban space, somehow the opposite of Walden (Walled In?).  The book is beautifully printed and compelling at least in part because the subject matter of most of the photographs is so banal that it becomes provocative.  There are some surprises in the book, like the original photograph laid in on the cloth cover, but hidden by one of the least attractive dust jackets ever, and the inclusion of an essay so opaque and irritating that its sole function seems to be to argue against the inclusion of an essay in any book of photographs…

John Gossage, Berlin

John Gossage, Berlin

Much of the rest of Gossage’s work is overtly political, including Berlin in the time of the Wall (dark and dismal photographs from the 1980s of the Berlin Wall), Empire (photographs of Ancient Egypt by Dr. H.W. Vogel and of Washington DC during the Desert Storm victory celebrations), and Hey Fuckface (photographs from neighborhoods near superfund sites).   It sometimes seems that he is making photographs of things that cannot be photographed (political displays of power, environmental contaminants), and many of his individual photographs appear to fail by conventional standards.

And then there is the visual treat of Snake Eyes, Gossage’s simple black and white images matched against Terri Weifenbach’s sumptuous color plates, images made in the same place and the same time and infused with beauty and love.  And the essay at the beginning of the book—short and sweet, but part of one of the most interesting discussions I’ve ever encountered in photography or in art.  (The other half of the discussion is in Along Some Rivers, by Robert Adams…)


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