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Remembering Lewis Baltz Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

26 November 2014

Anyone can take a photograph," Baltz once admitted. The task is to organize your photographs, giving them meaning. "That's really where the work begins."

His photographs, art critics often complained, looked like anyone took them. But Baltz approached the medium, he said, like "an anthropologist from a different solar system." Photography was the "simplest and most direct way of recording something."

He didn't much like what he saw, though.

His early images of industrial parks, sprouting near his home, captured scenes that were not eye catching. They didn't even rise to the level of the mundane. The images featured unremarkable buildings geometrically squared in their compositions.

Unremarkable except for the thought, Baltz put it, that you didn't know what was going on in there. "Bulimic capitalism sweeping across the land," he suspected. it was the effect of this new world rather that its props that interested him.

In the late 1980s, he became interested in the emerging electronic technologies. Although the machines looked about as interesting as refrigerators, they were "doing the real work of the world." As he worked with them, though, he became concerned about how the technology could be used in "unrelenting surveillance of the population."

His images showing advances in medical technology depicted a level of invasion by the health provider into the patient that, fortunately, is also benign but made him wonder what if they were not. They can now get inside you, he warned.

His early work was in black and white, deadpan. But he worked in color later to depict, among other things, the concept of the city and explored technical issues like the effect of resolution on ideal viewing distance.

And while he insisted each project had its own focus, there is a theme to his work. "The more that's seen, the less is revealed," he said. "The truth, if there is truth, is unapproachable and unknowable."

He speaks for himself in this 13-minute clip:

Baltz was born in Newport Beach, Calif. In 1945, the only child of a couple who ran a mortuary. His father died when he was 11. When he was 14 he began working in a Laguna Beach camera store owned by photographer William Current, who showed him the ropes and introduced him to the art world.

In 1969 Baltz graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute and received a Master's in Fine Arts degree from Claremont Graduate School in 1971 for a thesis based on photographs of tract homes.

He published The New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California in 1974, included in a three-volume set which also contains The Tract Houses and The Prototype Works. In 1977 his work was included in the Whitney Biennial.

He moved to Europe in the 1980s where he taught in Switzerland and Italy. The Getty Research Institute acquired Baltz's archive last year.

Baltz passed away in Paris, where he had been living, on Saturday from complications of cancer and emphysema.

A selection of his work can be seen at gallery luisotti, which represented him, and SFMOMA's Web site.

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