Revisiting the iconic western American landscape is a challenge that many photographers have taken. From the survey photographers of the early nineteenth century to the masters of landscape photography such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge, the American West has never ceased to inspire.
At the occasion of an ongoing exhibition entitled Going West, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art American invited photographer Mark Klett to give a talk on his work and his creative approach on the subject. Using re-photography, Klett, in collaboration with Byron Wolfe, revisited major sites of the western American landscape and made new photographs that investigate changes that have occurred since they were last photographed.
To the modern digital photographer, re-photography is nothing new. There are even apps now that align a picture with a previous photo on a smart phone to create a visual record of change. But back in the 1970s, when our two photographers started to work on these ideas, it was quite revolutionary. “Only a few scientists were using re-photography to analyze glacier movements and other geological changes,” explained Mark Klett, who worked as a geologist before turning to photography.
Obviously, Klett and Byron have also an inclination for history and vintage photographs. In their first collective project, entitled Third Views, Second Sight, began in 1997, they revisited 109 historic landscape sites, all based on original photographs from nineteen-century American western surveys of the 1860s and 1870s. Their method was simple, and yes, sometimes painstaking: they had to find each original photographs’ vantage point and capture the site as close as possible to the original light condition, both in time of day and year. Once this achieved, they composed a new image, often a panorama, that embedded the original photograph(s) in the context of the contemporary scene, in a collage-type format.
Then came Yosemite in Time, which followed the same methodology but went beyond the simple re-production. “Originally, my interest had a lot to do with change, what changed and what did not change. After a while, it became secondary. I became more interested about how we perceive the change, how the combination of pictures change our perception and expectation about a place.”
Their last book, released in 2012, Reconstructing the view, is a continuation of their Yosemite work applied to the Grand Canyon This time, Klett and Wolfe relied on digital equipment. They used digital backs attached to their medium format cameras and laptops, which allowed them to merge their imagery with Photoshop and see the rendering of their work onsite. The digital technologies brought more creativity and possibilities to their work, like the ability to zoom in great detail, and to stitch multiple images into one.
More on their projects can be seen on their website, where the pair offer interactive video explanations of their workflow and sometimes playful approaches.
Through April 13, 2014
Atlanta’s High Museum of Art American
1280 Peachtree St NE
Atlanta, GA 30309
Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon
Photographs of Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe
Published by the University of California Press with the Phoenix Art Museum and the Center for Creative Photography.
Hardcover, 208 pages.