Lewis Baltz | Notes on Looking

Lewis Baltz ‘Park City’ and the choice of Wallace Stevens

What happens if I look at Lewis Baltz’ Park City photos without searching for “the afterglow of the new dystopia?” Quoting from the press release which then quotes the final lines of Wallace Stevens poem, Gubbinal: “The World is ugly,/and the People are sad.” I ask my question as a sort of reverse-engineering of my own aesthetics: I find these photographs, and what they picture, to be beautiful – they are to my taste. The half-built landscapes don’t feel like disjuncture, I can imagine the scenes to be fairly interesting and beautiful. The particular and specific messes that are a byproduct of construction have charms for me – the chaos indicates actions being taken. Looking at these photographs, first I appreciate their clarity and the level of granularity that they offer – literally as with the mounds of disgorged earth on which I can sense, and almost see, each grain of sand, and metaphorically in the many ideas that the artist presents – these are landscapes of the American west where our dreams of heroics resides, and yet these are small, are black and white and they do not idealize in a direction of traditional beauty – in fact they give me another way to think about beauty, as a thing I need to seek and not simply accept. In the time these photos were being made, our concept of “ecology” was being born – these photos probably bolstered the nascent movement toward thinking of environment as other than milieu, as a thing to be protected from man, as something almost holy. The 102 photos in the series are...