I'm pleased to pass along the news that Frank Gohlke's little gem of a book, Thoughts on Landscape: Collected Writings and Interviews, is newly available from Amazon. Gohlke is one of the best writers who is also an accomplished photographer—his thoughts and essays are articulate and thoughtful, and he's even lucid in interviews, of which there are several present here. In fact, one of the best chapters in the book is "Lieben und Arbeiten" from a 1984 Colorado College interview, which contains the famous aphorism, "At its best...photography asks us to return to the world from art."
He's written very little: the contents here span from 1976 to 2007. Everything of his I've ever seen is here. Present are his fine 1977 essay on Ben Lifson, and of course "A Volatile Core," from Aperture 98, which begins like this:
Some facts: On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens in the Cascade Range of southwestern Washington state erupted explosively, two months after the first signs that a 123-year period of dormancy was ending. An earthquake caused the weakened north face of the mountain to avalanche into the Toutle River valley, instantaneously releasing the pressure on the upwelling magma below. The result was a lateral blast of incredible force that devastated 230 square miles of commercial timberland, recreational forest, and wilderness. Trees representing one billion board feet of timber were killed where they stood, flattened, or pulverized and blown away. Valleys were filled with debris, rivers were rerouted, old lakes were reshaped and new lakes created. Where before there had been a gleaming symmetrical cone 9700 feet high, there was now a gaping horseshoe-shaped crater whose rim was 1300 feet and whose floor was 3000 feet lower than the old summit. Perhaps two million animals of all species were killed, including sixty-five human beings. During the seven hours of the May 18 eruption the release of energy was estimated to equal one Hiroshima-sized bomb per second.
I have often been attracted to places where very little happened: plowed fields, front yards, quiet intersections; the things that took place in my photographs were non-dramatic, hardly events at all in the common understanding of the word. A tornado or a volcanic eruption is at the other end of the spectrum....
Even so, this is not so much as book for readers as for thinkers, and if you digested one chapter per month you might be taking it too fast. Not that it's difficult (it's not), just that it's contemplative and reflective. He has thought deeply about photography and landscape, and what he has to say makes the reader do the same. One could keep this volume for years and dip into it now and again with pleasure and avail. If you like to read about photography, recommended. Lord knows how long the print run will last.
Of course if you prefer the pictures I'm not going to argue.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.