Lewis Baltz

Lewis Baltz, West Wall, Nursery Supplies, 1432 Santa Fe, Tustin, from the New Industrial Parks series, 1974

Lewis Baltz, Looking North from Masonic Hill toward Quarry Mountain. In foreground, new parking lots on land between West Sidewinder Drive and State Highway 248, from the Park City series, 1979

Lewis Baltz, Park Meadows, Subdivision 2, Lot 64, looking West, from the Park City series, 1979

Lewis Baltz, Park City, interior, 9, from the Park City series, 1979

Lewis Baltz, Park City, interior, 37, from the Park City series, 1979

It is often stated that in thirty years, when people look at the photographs we shoot today, all they will notice are the haircuts and clothing. This poses a problem when banality is the subject of your work, as it was in the work of the New Topographers–it is hard to make the past seem banal. Does this sense of the banal stay in the work when it is no longer contemporary, or is it inevitable that it will become nostalgic?

Now that we are more than thirty years in the future, it is interesting to see how the work has fared. Some of it has in fact taken on this nostalgic aspect, such as some of the more popular work by Stephen Shore, which often included cars and other ephemeral objects. But some images have retained a very similar sensibility to the day they were shot. The work of Lewis Baltz (born 1945) in particular stands out in this way. Baltz photographed places that seem to lie outside of time: industrial parks, housing developments, construction sites. But in addition to his choice of subject matter is his decision to shoot in stark, geometric, high-contrast images that, while having a compelling geometric formalism, refuse to soften the bleakness and occasional loathsomeness of the imagery by falsely beautifying the subject matter.

The images included here are some of Baltz’s that best capture this exploration of the banal landscape of the American West. They are from a number of his series, including Park City. In the Park City images, he recorded the conversion of a mining town into a middle class ski resort. Looking at the Park Meadows image, we see a pile of dirt and rock, a byproduct of development. The next image, Looking North from Masonic Hill, we see the rectangles of human development appearing alien against the hills. Both images show the cross between the natural and cultivated, human space. The Park City interiors put us now inside the developments, showing us the triumph of human geometry against the curves of nature.

Daniel Temkin, ICP-Bard MFA 2012

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