Frank Gohlke, One Thing and Another @Howard Greenberg

JTF (just the facts): A total of 34 black and white photographic works, variously framed and matted, and hung in the main gallery space and the book alcove. The main exhibit includes 8 diptychs and 10 single images hung in pairs, while the book alcove has 16 single images. (Installation shots at right.)

The works in the show come from the following projects/series. For each, the number of works on view is listed, accompanied by additional print details:

  • Ten Minutes in North Texas (5 gelatin silver prints mounted to aluminum, each 53×38, in editions of 5, taken in 1995 and printed in 2011)
  • Unpacked (3 pigment prints, each 24×60, in editions of 5, taken in 2008-2009 and printed in 2012)
  • Aftermath (3 pairs of 2 gelatin silver prints, each 14×18, edition AP, taken in 1979/1980 and printed in 1980/1982)
  • Mt. St. Helens (2 pairs of 2 gelatin silver prints, each 10×24, in editions of 15, taken in 1983/1990 and printed in 1993)
  • Grain Elevators (9 gelatin silver prints, ranging from 7×7 to 14×11, taken and printed between 1972 and 1974)
  • Landscape/Untitiled (4 gelatin silver prints, ranging from 9×9 to 14×11, taken and printed between 1973 and 1975)
  • Untitled (3 Polaroid type 50 series prints as a set, each 3×4, unique, taken and printed in 1971-1972)

Comments/Context: I’m not sure if it is a larger trend or just a quirk of New York gallery scheduling, but this is the third show I’ve seen in the last month or so that has used paired images to explore the idea of elapsed time in photography. Frank Gohlke’s use of this conceptual structure is altogether different than that of Paul Graham and Eve Sonneman however. In contrast to the jump cut, attention shifting jerkiness of these two, Gohlke’s images are astonishingly calm and meditative. Time passes in Gohlke’s works as well, but it does so deliberately, with ample time for reflection and investigation. The other glaring difference is that both Graham and Sonneman are primarily interested in activites and perceptions of the humans (or themselves), while Gohlke is centered on the evolution of the land.

Aside from a group of vintage grain elevators and other landscapes in the book alcove, all of the works in this show are diptychs or pairs, with varying amounts of time between the first and second images. In both his Mt. St. Helens volanco eruption photographs and in those made in the aftermath of a Witchita Falls tornado, Gohlke turns the usual “before and after” motif on its head, making it “after, and then later”. The first image in each pair is a catalog of destruction: blown down trees, piles of ash and deep craters, or houses turned to rubble, roofs ripped off, and neighborhoods decimated. The second image is a story of healing, rebirth, and starting over, years later. New evergreens have sprouted up and craters have silted over, or straight sidewalks and new one story houses have once again become neat and tidy communities. Both man and nature are seen to be remarkably resilient in the face of disaster.

Gohlke’s newest pictures shorten the interval between shots down considerably, in one series down to just ten minutes. In these deceptively unassuming images of broad Texas scrublands and prairies, the changes are extremely subtle: the path of the clouds, the wind on the grass, the movement of a river, or the shading of the sunlight. They require patience, and quiet, and contemplation, and they reveal a kind of solemn, pared down poetry of ever shifting tiny details. Their pleasures reside not in the cleverness of their conceptual framework, but in their deep and humble respect for the texture of the land itself.

The final set of pairs are a real surpise in the context of Gohlke’s photographic history: paper abstractions made from carboard packing boxes. Piled up in clusters and jumbles of angles and geometries, and then alternately seen at different times of day or from slightly different viewpoints, they are intricate puzzles of lines and planes, full of formal realignment and dilation. What started out as a pile of throw away debris clearly turned into a more complicated exercise in photographic seeing.

Gohlke’s work has an old school sense of nuance that we seem to be forgetting in these fast paced times. He still values rhythm and lyricism, tempered by thoughtfulness and a sense of history. He continues to look intently at the world around him, eschewing the interruptions and distractions, seeing the details that only come from consistent, sustained attention.

Collector’s POV: The works in the show are priced as follows. The diptychs from Ten Minutes in North Texas and Unpacked are $10000 each. The pairs of prints from Aftermath are $20000 or $25000, while the pairs of prints from Mt. St. Helens are $10000. The vintage Grain Elevators are $10000 each, while the vintage landscapes are $15000 each. The set of Polaroids is $15000. Gohlke’s work has only been intermittently available at auction in recent years. While prices have ranged between $3000 and $6000, this may not be entirely representative of the market for his best work. As such, gallery retail is likely still the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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