Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

GOHLKE, FRANK (b. 1942)

Born in Wichita Falls, Texas, on April 3, 1942, artist-photographer Frank Gohlke took up the medium in the mid-1960s while a graduate student in English literature at Yale University. Encouraged and influenced by photographers Walker Evans and Paul Caponigro, he initially worked under the sway of New England's thick woods and rolling hills. Yet Gohlke found his true artistic voice after moving to Minneapolis in 1971. Drawn to a bundle of grain elevators near his new home, he began what became a six-year photographic meditation that explored how these great behemoths have come to define the landscape, acting as focal points for regional communities.

Gohlke gained national acclaim in 1975 as one of the nine photographers featured in the influential exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of the Man-Altered Landscape. The artists in this show were heralded for bucking the fine art landscape tradition by drawing attention to the often-prosaic beauty of the built environment. The following year Gohlke contributed to the Seagram Corporation's renowned Courthouse Project, photographing courthouses in North Texas. In 1984 he took part in the "Contemporary Texas" photographic project. He also has completed extensive photographic series on the aftermath of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption in Washington and the Sudbury River in Massachusetts.

A potent sense of place marks the core of Gohlke's art. Reflecting his Plains roots, his work is infused with quiet, an appreciation for space and balance, and a recognition of the fragility of humanity's relationship with nature. Time also is important. For every photograph capturing a moment like a flash of lightning or a signpost acutely bent by tornado winds, he offers elegiac visions of ordinary structures, objects, and places. At times his work comes infused with a wry humor. In this personal nexus he seeks to clarify how we come to define what we call home.

John B. Rohrbach Amon Carter Museum

Gohlke, Frank. Landscapes from the Middle of the World, Photographs 1972–1987. San Francisco: Friends of Photography, 1988.

Gohlke, Frank. Measure of Emptiness: Grain Elevators in the American Landscape. Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

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