A decades-long resident of Arizona, Mark Klett first came to the state as a geological researcher. He stayed on as a photographer, and for over three decades has documented the demanding environments and idiosyncrasies of life in the Southwest. Since his artistic project began in the 1970’s, Klett has received Guggenheim, NEA, and Governor’s Arts Awards, among many other accolades, and yet perhaps nothing is so indicative of his singular craft and aesthetic intention as his wide-ranging body of work, a selection of which will be included in an upcoming retrospective at Lisa Sette Gallery. From black and white photographs of discrete desert scenes, both alien and lovely, to the collage-like constructions of his “rephotographic panoramas” of the Grand Canyon, Klett’s works present the complicated attraction of the Western frontier and its enduring capacity for both inspiration and isolation.
Klett’s images are consummate depictions of the untamable, immeasurable Western horizon as it intersects with our human imagination and intervention. Often, Klett and his collaborators, chiefly Byron Wolfe, combine archival imagery, such as postcards or guidebooks, with new and original photographs, expanding well-known scenes of grandeur to even grander proportions, and compelling his viewers to risk massive and exhilarating perspectives. Humans become minor details in these scenes, silhouetted presences on the precipice of incomprehensibly vast landscapes. From this precarious vantage point, we may observe the inexorable series of deep-time geological changes and human involvements that define the American West.
Top Left: Mark Klett, Viewing Thomas Moran at the source, Artist's Point, Yellowstone, 8/3/00, 2000, pigment inkjet print, 20" x 24", edition of 50
Top Middle: Mark Klett, Desert Citizen (DC-09), 1989-90, gelatin silver print, 20" x 16", edition of 50
Top Right: Mark Klett, .357, Dusk, 10/10/04, 2004, toned gelatin silver print, 7.5" x 9", edition of 20
Bottom: Mark Klett with Byron Wolfe, Panorama from Point Sublime after William Holmes, (1882-2007), 2007, pigment inkjet print, 24" x 93",
edition of 25
As a child, Binh Danh examined photographs of National Parks as a way of escaping the boredom of working in his father’s television repair shop. Yet he had never visited his home state’s own inaugural park until he embarked on the series of exquisite daguerreotype images that make up the photographer’s Yosemite series. Danh, who grew up in suburban California after his family fled the turmoil in Vietnam in the 1970s, has commented that until recently, “Yosemite, like the Vietnam war, only existed in my imagination because I only saw the landscape in photographs.”
Lately that dream-like landscape has been threatened by wildfires and Binh Danh’s unique daguerreotypes remind us of the precious quality of a pristine wilderness that can be lost at any moment.
Danh is well known for his rigorous photographic experimentation, having previously innovated a method of printing images on living leaves in order to create a botanical archive of victims of the atrocities in Vietnam and Cambodia. Similarly, creation of the Yosemite series involved outfitting a specialized van for the on-site creation of large-scale daguerreotypes and spending many seasons camping and working from within the park.
An in-camera exposure that is chemically etched on silver-coated copper plates, the daguerreotype is a difficult and early photographic process resulting in photographic objects with mirror-like reflective surfaces. Danh’s images of well-known sites, such as Bridalveil Fall, are both transportingly gorgeous and eerily mutable, as we see our own faces, and the faces of people around us, reflected in their sublime surfaces. In Danh’s re-envisioning, these much-photographed scenes of American splendor become unique, individual representations of the multitude of experiences of the American West, from the vistas of Yosemite to the suburban daydreams of a young immigrant artist.
Above Left: Binh Danh, Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite, CA, May 4, 2012, Daguerreotype (in camera exposure), 6.5" x 8.5" (plate), 10.75" x 12.5" framed
Above Right: Binh Danh, Cathedral Rocks and Cathedral Spires, May 15, 2012, Daguerreotype (in camera exposure), 6.5" x 8.5" (plate), 10.75" x 12.5" framed