Road trips

By GREG COOK  |  July 1, 2008

New Yorker Fa Ventilato’s soundtrack adds to the thoughtful and melancholy mood, moving between Schubert’s Winterreise (“Winter Journey”) and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, with added bits of Japanese flute and Chinese violin.

There’s something missing at the heart of the piece, however. It feels as if Gardner’s photos had interested Rabbia but hadn’t particularly energized her. “Travels with Isabella” adds up to a very nice, quite pretty music video, but it’s no great shakes.

Modernist classicism to observations of scrappy American plains landscapes.

Travel is also often the subject of 85 landscape photos — most of them black-and-white — on view in “Accommodating Nature,” Frank Gohlke’s mid-career retrospective, which was organized by Texas’s Amon Carter Museum and is now at the Addison Gallery at Phillips Academy in Andover. (The museum closes on July 13 for a renovation and expansion that is scheduled to continue until spring 2010.) The 66-year-old lived in Massachusetts from 1987 until 2007, when he moved to Arizona. He taught at MassArt on and off between 1988 and 2006.

Gohlke won national recognition when he — along with Bernd and Hilla Becher, Stephen Shore, Nicholas Nixon, and others — was included in the George Eastman House’s 1975 exhibition “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape.” Their work was seen as a break from the romantic photos of apparently untouched landscapes by folks like Ansel Adams.

Gohlke’s early photos, from the 1970s, apply a crisp Modernist classicism to observations of scrappy American plains architecture and ruins. Majestic, practical grain elevators stand stoutly along railroad tracks or shimmer at the edge of a wet, black, flat Texas road as lightning crackles in the distance.

His look comes straight out of the flinty photos John Vachon, Jack Delano, and (especially) Walker Evans shot for the Farm Security Administration’s famed Depression-era documentary project. His focus is the vast windswept horizontal vistas of the middle of the country, where the horizon is low, you can see forever, and the sky dominates. People are notably absent; the scenes feel silent except for maybe wind.

Gohlke photographed his home town of Wichita Falls in North Texas during periodic visits. It seems like a suburbia of tidy lawns, cars neatly parked in driveways, and plastic kiddie pools. But a tornado that ripped through the town in 1979 brought him back to check on family and photograph the wreckage — and then return 14 months later to document the recovery. Paired pictures show bent utility poles fixed, shattered signs replaced, downed utility wires rehung. 4503 McNeil Street, Looking North, April 14, 1979 and June 1980 shows a street turned into a junkyard of flipped cars, shredded trees, and furniture scattered across lawns. Then it becomes a neat row of ranch houses with the now stubby trees leafing out again, and a car parked in the driveway. In one shot, a little girl plays on the sidewalk among the wreckage. Fourteen months later the houses and fences are rebuilt, and the street is empty of people.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Ansel Adams, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Lee Friedlander,  More more >
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