Lewis Baltz 1945-2014

I met Lewis Baltz when I went to a workshop led by him at Paul Hill’s Photographers’ Place in Derbyshire around 1979, having been greatly impressed by his work in ‘The New Industrial Parks near Irvine, California which I had seen in books and magazines from the US. Along with Robert Adams and Stephen Shore his work has had a great influence on my photographic practice.

He brought the page proofs of ‘Park City’ with him to the workshop and we were able to compare them with his original prints, and I rather put my foot it in when I told him I felt that some of the book versions were an improvement on his original prints. He had only just received these and I think would probably have rather spent the time looking through them on his own than with us. I got even more into his bad books when I commented on the tonal problems of using the ultra-slow b/w films he was working with that were not designed for pictorial photography. They were problems that I experienced too. Then he had been using some ultra-slow Kodak recording film, but later he moved to Technical Pan, and that was a beast I spent some years trying to tame to my satisfaction. When it was good it was very, very good, but…

I don’t think he looked at the work of any of us taking part in the workshop – rather unusually, but it was a short workshop, certainly if he did I remember nothing he said about the work I had taken from my Hull project, but he was very generous in showing and talking about the work of the other ‘New Topographics‘, including some who were hardly known in the UK. I think it was him who got me excited about the work of Robert Adams, as well as that of Anthony Hernandez and also Chauncey Hare, with whom I later had a brief correspondence. I’ve not met Baltz to talk with since that workshop, but his death still came as something of a shock; someone I’d once spent a few fairly intensive days with and a man a few months younger than me.

I well remember standing in a London bookshop a few months later with Park City in my hand, looking though the images and trying to steel myself to buy it. But here in the UK it was I think £50, roughly a week’s pay for me, and I reluctantly put it back on the shelf.  Perhaps I would have gone without food for a few days, but it would be hard to explain to my wife and two sons. Of course it would have been a good investment.

I still have the signed copy of ‘Nevada’ he sold at the workshop, and I did buy Chauncey Hare‘s Interior America, which was going cheap in a sale at the Photographers’ Gallery shortly afterwards, perhaps I was almost the only photographer here who appreciated his work. I wrote about him and the book perhaps 10 years ago on About Photography, and was pleased when a new and larger book of his work was published in 2009.

Baltz remained very much in the eye of the photographic public and I followed his work in the pages of some of the more expensive photographic magazines and at exhibitions such as Paris Photo, but there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of his later work on line.  George Eastman House  has a largish collection of his very early work and there is more information on American Suburb X. There is an interesting related note at SFMoMA, who also have the best on line collection of his work up until 1979 I’ve found, although only around a quarter of the 81 works listed have images available.

You can also find some quotations from him on the web, including this:

I believed it was necessary to investigate photography, dismantle it, jettison all the non-essential components, and begin again with a stripped down but more powerful idea of what is, or could be “photographic”.


I’ve thought that when people appear in a picture, they automatically are perceived as the subject, irrespective of how they are represented. I wanted the only person in the picture to be the viewer.

Perhaps once you have stripped it down it isn’t too easy to know which way to go. The second quotation was a point of view in my own mind for years, though perhaps I have got over it now, and was perhaps behind my thinking for the photographic show I curated back in 2001, Cities of Walls, Cities of People.

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