“If the city plan ever had Utopian ambitions, they are no longer in force. The presiding idea now is not the ‘Good City’ but the ‘Good Enough City’.” – Lewis Baltz
Lesson / Koan : Afterthoughts are a beginning.
Lewis Baltz documents the changing American landscape of the 1970s in his series New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California.
The project’s 51 pictures depict structural details, walls at mid-distance, offices, and parking lots of industrial parks. Contrast and geometry are important in these pictures, but what marks them as uniform is Baltz’s attention to surface texture and lifeless subject matter. Often displayed in a grid format, it is important to Baltz that his pictures be seen collectively as a group or series. The series format suits his desire that no one image be taken as more true or significant than another, encouraging the viewer to consider not just the pictures but everything outside of the frame as well, emphasizing the monotony of the man-made environment. The pictures themselves resist any single point of focus, framed as they are to present the scene as a whole without bringing attention to any particular element within. Shot with a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera (usually at eye level), and stopped down for maximum depth of field, Baltz chooses his materials for maximum clarity and precision. Indeed, he takes care to title his pieces with specific information on each site’s location, so that viewers could return to the same exact place.
Fitts conceived of “Industrial Landscap[ing]” as a response to Lewis Baltz’ striking 1970’s series of photographs of Irvine warehouses.
Fitts expands on the theme of the strangely manicured, isolated space; manufactured environments that seem to quantify the human experience of literal space and how it is utilized as an oddly dissociative landscape where all trace of human interaction is missing. Instead what we find in these images are representations of the natural world codified and contained within the corporate agenda.
“In photography my interest has always been held by landscapes; never the heroic imagery most people have come to associate with the term landscape, but rather the beautifully subtle and banal work of the photographers associated with the new topograhics movement. The sense of quiet and isolation that pervades Baltz’s series on Irvine warehouses is something that I always set out to achieve through my own imagery.” – J. Bennett Fitts
The buildings of “Industrial Landscap[ing]” seem to have been designed for the “low impact visual experience,” meaning their appearance is deliberately innocuous. The landscape also reflects this same sense of disconnection and manicured precision as lone trees punctuate the otherwise bland surroundings. Lone trees appear almost as afterthoughts, isolated representations of nature thrown in for good measure.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s Lewis Baltz became fascinated by the stark, repellent, man-made landscape that was rolling over California’s then still-agrarian terrain. Baltz made a number of projects on this subject, the best known, The new Industrial Parks near Irvine, California was published as a limited edition book by Leo Castelli in 1974.
With this book Baltz took his place near the centre of the New Topographic movement, a newly coined term emblematic of a cool, distanced, yet critical view of the emerging man-altered landscape. The Topographic position, detached and glacial, has influenced photographic practice in the United States, Germany and Japan for the past 25 years.