Road trips

By GREG COOK  |  July 1, 2008

Gohlke followed this up by photographing the devastation in and around Mount St. Helens in Washington after it erupted in 1980. A pair of close-up panoramic shots show trees 12 miles from the volcano that were ripped down by its blast. Another photo shows thousands of trees scattered like toothpicks across a dark mountainside six miles from the volcano, with a peak rising ominously out of clouds in the background. Gohlke returned to the same riverside five times between 1981 and 1990 to watch it transform from a barren shore crossed by downed trees to a place thick with young trees. His shots are good, but it’s his subject — the awesome elemental drama of tornadoes and volcanoes — that makes these photos so fascinating.

Subsequent photos of mundane subjects (a woman watering her garden, a green Louisiana swamp, a railroad crossing) feel blah, perhaps purposely so. Early 1990s photos of Massachusetts’s Sudbury River are slightly more interesting because of their large scale and rich color. It looks as if Gohlke were studying Lee Friedlander’s aggressively offhand compositions and finger-in-front-of-the-lens æsthetic. But whereas Friedlander’s work is memorable for its wrongness and his acid eye for the ugly mediocrity often associated with the American scene, Gohlke’s feels just bland.

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