Reconstructing the View
The landscape has been a source of artistic exploration and contemplation since the earliest cave drawings. Represented in paintings and photography as well as film and the tourist’s snapshot, a variety of perspectives have all contributed to building within our collective imagination a sense of the places we inhabit and visit, potentially sparking our awe and imagination. Add to that the information gathered by the observations of geologists, cartographers, seismologists, and others trained in scientific observation, and we have a multifaceted and layered understanding of the land. An informed artist can remind us of how our perceptions are constructed and thus cast new light on the debates that arise over the meaning and value of particular landscapes and the importance of protecting them.
Since 1995, the collaborative team of photographers Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe has explored questions of constructed perception, time, and change. As early as 1997, they focused their visual inquiry on the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas. They analyzed the work of early creative practitioners who have documented the region for various purposes and identified the exact locations portrayed in these historic photographs and drawings. For example, they discovered that the 1882 lithograph by draftsman William Henry Holmes of the view of the Marble Canon Platform was so precise that it allowed them to create and insert new images into the original, matching the forms. The circular images that Klett and Wolfe chose to insert in this particular piece were taken through a military spotting scope, suggesting another perspective in viewing the land. From the exact same geographic point used by Holmes, they created a new photograph that incorporates the original view. A digital version of the historic image was inserted within the contemporary photograph, asking the viewer to consider the changes that have happened over time, not only in the land but in our perception of it.
This artistic exploration resulted in a body of work published in the book Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon Photographs of Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. Wolfe is the Program Director for Photography at the Tyler School of Art Center for the Arts at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a former student of Klett’s. Klett, Regents’ Professor of Art at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, worked as a geologist before pursuing photography. According to Klett, what draws him toward being an artist is that it enables him “to move into territories that would normally be seen as somewhat outside of the limits of any traditional practice, or at best at the outskirts of a discipline’s interests. Artists can often fill in the voids between disciplines and provide the glue to stick them together in unconventional ways.” Reconstructing the View reveals the combined invention of these two artists, offering provocative ways to think about the land, its history, and our role in “seeing” it. Collectively and individually Klett and Wolfe have collaborated with, been inspired by, and/or consulted with geologists, paleontologists, archeologists, botanists, ethnobotanists, writers, poets, sculptors, and historians. By bringing together their collective backgrounds, enriched by the insights of others, the artists push one another to create work that is more radical and more subversive than they might have created individually. “Collaboration is the amplification of ideas,” according to Wolfe.
JD Talasek, Director, Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences