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California Landscape Photography, Then And Now


Photography as an artistic genre almost always contains an air of documentary. Like we’ve mentioned with Identity and Affirmation, the medium is deeply tied to history and to the elements that are represented in the photo. Another sub-genre in the field that is different is landscape photography, a field that–really–is under-represented in California. Yet, a group of photographers–including Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, and Robert Adams–were inspired by artists like Ansel Adams and created a new photography canon that is so uniquely Southern Californian.

Their work is the focus of a show at University of California, Riverside’s California Museum of Photography: Seismic Shift: Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal and California Landscape Photography, 1944-1984. The show explores Baltz, Deal, and Adams’ work in the seventies and eighties, stemming from the New Topographicsshow in Rochester and its origins in Southern California. Seismic Shift identifies how different and somewhat “revolutionary” the group’s work was in relationship to the landscape photography community.

Their work has, directly and indirectly, shaped many Southern California photographers’ voices and visual vocabulary in relationship to their landscape photos. The work of Baltz, Deal, and Adams represent Southern California as a barren and colorless land of detritus (which, in the seventies and eighties, you could say was true). Today, elements of that barrenness and colorlessness still exist–but in different ways. Contemporary photographers likeJustin CarrasquilloBrian ParilloJ Bennett Fitts, and Romona Rosales are creating works that carry on their themes, likely to where they would be taking them now.

For more on modern photography and Seismic Shift, check out the Pacific Standard Time blog!

Top Photo: Glendale, California (from The Fault Zone), Joe Deal, 1979. Gelatin silver print. 14 x 14 in. Collection of UCR/California Museum of Photography © The Estate of Joe Deal, Courtesy Robert Mann Gallery, New York.

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