- Measure of Emptiness: Grain Elevators in the American Landscape by Frank Gohlke, and: Wright Morris: Origin of a Species by Wright Morris (review)
- Western American Literature
- University of Nebraska Press
- Volume 29, Number 4, Winter 1995
- p. 369
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Reviews 369 Measure ofEmptiness: GrainElevators in theAmerican Landscape. ByFrank Gohlke. Essay byjohn C. Hudson. (Baltimore:Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. 107 pages, $59.95/$29.95.) Wright Morris: Origin ofa Species. By Wright Morris. Essays by Sandra S. Phillips and John Szarkowski. (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1992. 104 pages, $19.95.) These superb books share an aesthetic and social interest in human struc tures as symbols of relationship, for Wright Morris, cultural objects touched intimately by time; for Frank Gohlke, grain elevators and the landscapes enfold ing them. Gohlke’sfascination with grain elevators began when he lived among them near the Minneapolis-St. Paul Midway. Intrigued by them first as “forms in light,” he began to concentrate on the social relationships implicit in their placement within landscapes. The intensity of his responses led him to human istic geography—especially toJ. B.Jackson, who taught him “how to interrogate a landscape.”This prolonged quest accounts for the range of Gohlke’s remark able photographs—from abstractions to portraits of particular structures to distant landscape views. John C. Hudson’s essay detailing the social history of this “American invention” provides an ideal correlative to the photographs. Like Gohlke, but long before, Wright Morris found his way between docu mentary and “artistic” photography through a lengthy process. In the phototexts The Inhabitants and The Home Place, Morris focused his camera on objects pertinent to American identity and composed visual elegies to “things about to disappear.”Though he turned away from photography four decades ago to pursue his career as a novelist, his photographs continue to be cel ebrated. WrightMorris: Origin ofa Speciesaccompanies the 1992 Morris retrospec tive exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It includes nearly seventy of Morris’s images (including his famous GANO elevator photo) and two essays, the first a perceptive appreciation byjohn Szarkowski, the second by Sandra Phillips. Phillips suggests quite rightly that the heart of Morris’s art is “the conjunction of pictures and words”; her discussion of the passageway as photographic and phototextual strategy in Morris’swork is illuminating. Morris and Gohlke, thankfully, were slow learners, coming to understand graduallywhat theyfirstwordlessly intuited. Their examples have much to teach us about looking closely and with due respect at the social contracts imbedded in cultural objects and secreted in landscapes. JOSEPH J. WYDEVEN Bellevue College ...