American Art Showcases Two Sides of Nature in Photographs

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Frank Gohlke's pictures of Midwestern grain elevators and small Texas towns have appeared in more than ten books. On a tour of his new show at the American Art Museum, the guide referred to Gohlke's work as a "challenge" to the popular, almost romantic nature photos of Ansel Adams. Adams was a master of the darkroom, but he was also fastidious about removing human subjects from a frame he wanted to photograph.

Frank Gohlke did the reverse: a poet of the everyday, he took pictures of the boundaries where man and nature intersect. Hence the grain elevators, rising into the murky sky. Or the streets of Wichita Falls, Texas, after a tornado scattered devastation across them. Gohlke's nature is not just lovely; it's in flux and simmering with dangers.

I asked Gohlke about his relationship with Ansel Adams' work.

"I didn't challenge him to a duel or anything," he chuckled. "But I couldn't relate to the idea that nature and man are separate."

See a slideshow of Gohlke's pictures here.

Observe nature's two faces—serene beauty and lurking threat—at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "Accommodating Nature: the Photographs of Frank Gohlke" is up until March 3, 2009. "Georgia O'Keeffee and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities" closes on January 4.

(All images courtesy of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas)