Frank Gohlke is an American landscape photographer, awarded two Guggenheim fellowships, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Fulbright Scholar Grant.
He bought his first camera as a teenager and was a member of the Wichita Falls camera club during high school, eventually purchasing an enlarger and learning to process gelatin silver prints. His early subjects included family members and models hired by the camera club. Late in high school, Gohlke’s interest in photography waned; he sold his enlarger and, save for family snapshots, stopped taking pictures altogether.
Gohlke was raised in Wichita Falls, Texas and received a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Texas at Austin in 1964 and an M.A. in English Literature from Yale University in 1966.
During a period of writer’s block while at Yale, Gohlke returned to photography. He began making near-still films with a Super 8 movie camera before transitioning to 35-mm still photography. He eventually showed his work to documentary photographer and then-Yale professor Walker Evans, whose mode of seeing the American vernacular landscape would exert an enduring influence on Gohlke’s work. From 1967 to 1968, after leaving Yale, Gohlke studied with the landscape photographer Paul Caponigro, making weekly visits to Caponigro’s Connecticut home.
In 1971, Gohlke relocated to Minneapolis, and a year later began his first major body of work, documenting the grain elevators of America’s central plains. Over the next five years, from 1972 to 1977, the project took Gohlke from Minnesota to Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. From his early aesthetic interest in grain elevators, Gohlke became fascinated by their design, their connection to the surrounding landscape, and their function within the cities and towns they occupied. His photographic practice grew to include a research component whose relationship to the pictures themselves was one of reciprocal influence. A selection of the photographs was eventually published as Measure of Emptiness: Grain Elevators in the American Landscape, Gohlke’s first monograph.
On April 10, 1979, an F4 tornado struck Gohlke’s hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas, killing 42 people, injuring 1,700 more, and significantly damaging an 8 mile-square swath of the city. Shortly thereafter, Gohlke returned home to photograph the wreckage left in the tornado’s wake. He returned to rephotograph the same sites a year later, crafting precise reconstructions of his previous views in order to document the city’s recovery.
In 1981, several months after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Skamania County, Washington, Gohlke made his first trip there to photograph the volcano and its environs. In order to convey the enormity of the event, which devastated approximately 250 square miles, Gohlke employed a variety of approaches, including aerial and panoramic views and sequential photography over various periods of time. From 1981 to 1990, Gohlke made five visits to the region, in many cases returning several times to the same location to record its transformation. He authored short didactic texts to accompany the images. In 2004, the Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted “Mt. St. Helens: Photographs by Frank Gohlke,” a solo exhibition (with accompanying catalog), co-organised by Peter Galassi, Chief Curator, Department of Photography, and John Szarkowski, Director Emeritus, Department of Photography.
Gohlke has, in his work, dealt consistently with questions of human usage and perception of land. He has photographed farmland in central France (on a commission from la mission photographique de la DATAR); conducted a personal survey of a portion of the line of latitude 42˚30’ N, which bisects Massachusetts; made two series of photographs tracing the courses of the Red River in North Texas and the Sudbury River in Massachusetts; and documented the urban landscape and residential architecture of Queens, NY (conjointly with photographer Joel Sternfeld, on a commission from Queens College). A selection of Gohlke’s and Sternfeld’s pictures were published as Landscape as Longing. In 2013, Gohlke received a Fulbright travel grant to travel to Kazakhstan in order to document the disappearing wild apple forests surrounding the Kazakh city of Almaty.
A mid-career retrospective of Gohlke’s work was organized by the Amon Carter Museum (September 22, 2007 – January 6, 2008). The accompanying catalog, entitled Accommodating Nature: The Photographs of Frank Gohlke (Center for American Places and Amon Carter Museum, 2007), includes essays by Gohlke, Rebecca Solnit and John Rohrbach, Senior Curator of Photographs, Amon Carter Museum.
Gohlke is the recipient of two Guggenheim Foundation Fellowships, a Fulbright Scholar Grant, and two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; as well as grants from the Bush Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, and the Gund Foundation. He has also received commissions from the Wichita County Heritage Society and the Texas Historical Foundation. Monographs include Landscapes from the Middle of the World: Photographs 1972 – 1987 (1988); Measure of Emptiness: Grain Elevators in the American Landscape (1992); The Sudbury River: A Celebration (1993); and Mount St. Helens (2005).
Gohlke′s photographs have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; the Amon Carter Museum; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. In 1975, he was included in the influential exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape, organized by the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House. His photographs are held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House; the Canadian Center for Architecture; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Amon Carter Museum; and the Walker Art Center.