Youtube/E . Stephanian

"I tried to show myself as an anthropologist from a different solar system. What kind of new world was being built here?"

Lewis Baltz, a photographer famed for his stark images of the built environment, died this week at age 69, after what's been reported as an extended illness.

Baltz was a leader in the "New Topographics" movement, a turning point in 1970s landscape photography. Lenses shifted away from idealized views of nature to "stark industrial landscapes, suburban sprawl, and everyday scenes not usually given a second glance," according to SFMOMA. In 1975, the George Eastman House in New York hosted "New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape," the exhibition that gave the movement its name. The show was restaged at SFMOMA in 2010.

Born 1945 in Newport Beach, California, Baltz often referred to how growing up in a rapidly urbanizing region influenced his work. "A new world was being born," he said in a 1998 episode of Contacts. "It was simply a new, homogenized American environment that was marching across the land and being exported... And no one wanted to confront this."

Praised as "seminal" by the The Washington Post, Baltz's best known series—including “The New Industrial Parks,” and "The Tract Houses"—presented the long-reaching effects of urban sprawl and industrial manufacturing with an aim of hyper-objectivity.

"I tried to show myself as an anthropologist from a different solar system, someone recording events that transpired in front of their camera," he said. "What kind of new world was being built here? Was it a world people could live in? Really?"

Below is the aforementioned episode of Contacts. Watch it for a bare entrée into Baltz's photographic lexicon: Views of the city large and small, seductive and repulsive, familiar and damning.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a tiny house in Oregon
    Design

    How Amazon Could Transform the Tiny House Movement

    Could the e-commerce giant help turn small-home living from a niche fad into a national housing solution?

  2. The downtown St. Louis skyline.
    Perspective

    Downtown St. Louis Is Rising; Black St. Louis Is Being Razed

    Square co-founder Jack Dorsey is expanding the company’s presence in St. Louis and demolishing vacant buildings on the city’s north side.

  3. A portrait of Jay-Z.
    Equity

    The Roots of Jay-Z’s ‘Black Capitalism’

    Now partnering with the NFL, Jay-Z centers wealth-building in his activism, as many African Americans have before him—but without much success.

  4. Warren Logan
    Transportation

    A City Planner Makes a Case for Rethinking Public Consultation

    Warren Logan, a Bay Area transportation planner, has new ideas about how to truly engage diverse communities in city planning. Hint: It starts with listening.

  5. a photo of a person sleeping on the street in L.A.'s Skid Row.
    Equity

    Trans Teens, Trailed by Homelessness

    In California and other states, transgender and non-binary people are more likely to be unsheltered than any other unhoused population.

×