Unreal Nature

July 27, 2016

A Personal Coming to Terms

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

Baltz’s vision is … a personal coming to terms with viewing the present world landscape, which has become progressively one of “uncertain continuums and conjunctions of affects” as opposed to one of linear certainty and logical clarity.

This is from what was the introduction by Adam D. Weinberg to a prior three volume set of The Tract Houses reprinted in volume of that title in the multi-volume Lewis Baltz (2010):

… In 1967 he began a series of images he refers to as prototypes. These images, while all of recognizable subjects — a vacant storefront, the exterior wall of an industrial building, an anesthetic-looking hotel room complete with bed and matching side-table lamps — were not so much descriptions of things but, as the term prototype indicates, something that is the first of its kind, “an original model on which something is based.” These works do not primarily depict the particular but rather the generic.

… His pictures are object-images, physical presences themselves, not representations of things. Although they are signs of real-world objects, they are also independent, archetypal forms. They are among those images by a relatively small group of artists, among them Sol LeWitt and Ed Ruscha, that suggested a new avenue for what were the increasingly moribund aesthetics of 1960s photography, which was more and more obsessed with the fetishization of craft, the search for the spiritual or the sensationalist depiction of events.

[line break addedBaltz’s low-key, understated and elemental works reveal subjects that are inexorably temporary, yet they have an inevitability, an inscrutability, a permanence, even a stateliness. His images demand more than contemplation and delectation: they demand reckoning.

The following is from the essay ‘Terminal Documents: The Early Desert of Lewis Baltz’ by Robert A. Sobieszek from the Nevada volume in the set:

The landscape underwent rather grave changes between 1956 and 1979. Between the release of John Ford’s desert epic The Searchers and that of Andrei Tarkovsky’s post-apocalyptic film Stalker, the landscape was increasingly perceived with far more than a simple loss of innocence and only a bit less than a complete surrender to cynicism.

[line break added] Of course the real landscape during these years was progressively scarred, mutilated, poisoned, sterilized of all life forms and made, over the course of a couple of decades, to truly resemble T.S. Eliot’s “stony rubbish” filled with “broken images.” But, much more important, our very idea of the landscape (and “landscape” after all is nothing but a perception) changed utterly and without, it would seem, redemption.

[line break added] In that nearly quarter of a century, a “death of nature” (pace Nill NcKibben) took place in which the classic laws of thermodynamics were turned upside down, the notion of natural sublimity was reduced to the literary trope it had always been, and the idea that there was a nature apart from human culture and alteration was rendered preposterous. It is within this change, this fundamentally radical shift in perceiving the landscape that Lewis Baltz’s Nevada, a series of black-and-white photographs made in 1977, and a monograph published by Castelli Graphics in 1978, may be located.

… Ford’s desert of the American West, a vast, dry void in which anything is possible and nature remains the one transcendent constant had been transformed into Tarkovsky’s irradiated desert of shallow lagoons lined with rusting scrap and rotting detritus and endless paths through overgrown weeds and collapsing structures where nothing is constant.

… In Nevada Baltz’s focus is no longer on the sterile architecture of an equally sterile late-century environment, but on an entropic terrain vague where what is built is merged with what is unbuilt, where “sprawl” and “blight” have become the picturesque norm, where the positions of observer and inhabitant have become confounded, and where past and present are intermingled.

Baltz_Nevada33
Nevada 33, looking west

… Once thought to “blossom like a rose” following development in the last century, the desert of the American West has become, for Baltz and others, the backdrop for a lingering, inescapable entropy occasioned by avarice and some sort of Manifest Destiny. But Baltz’s vision is not in the service of any anti-development propaganda, as some have claimed, nor of any politics except those encompassing a personal coming to terms with viewing the present world landscape, which has become progressively one of “uncertain continuums and conjunctions of affects” as opposed to one of linear certainty and logical clarity. To deal with such a landscape, Baltz redefined documentary photography and its approach to landscape at precisely the same time that he came to understand that what was generally thought of as “landscape” never existed.

-Julie

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