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. Bicycle riders on a package-blocked bicycle lane
    Perspective

    Why Do Micromobility Advocates Have Tiny-Demand Syndrome?

    In the 1930s big auto dreamed up freeways and demanded massive car infrastructure. Micromobility needs its own Futurama—one where cars are marginalized.

  2. a photo of a WeWork office building
    Life

    What WeWork’s Demise Could Do to NYC Real Estate

    The troubled coworking company is the largest office tenant in New York City. What happens to the city’s commercial real estate market if it goes under?

  3. a photo of cyclists riding beside a streetcar in the Mid Market neighborhood in San Francisco, California.
    Transportation

    San Francisco’s Busiest Street Is Going Car-Free

    A just-approved plan will redesign Market Street to favor bikes, pedestrians, and public transit vehicles. But the vote to ban private cars didn’t happen overnight.

  4. a photo of Extinction Rebellion climate change protesters in London
    Environment

    When Climate Activists Target Public Transit

    The climate protest movement Extinction Rebellion is facing a backlash after disrupting commuters on the London Underground.

  5. A photo of an abandoned building in Providence, Rhode Island.
    Perspective

    There's No Such Thing as a Dangerous Neighborhood

    Most serious urban violence is concentrated among less than 1 percent of a city’s population. So why are we still criminalizing whole areas?

×