A Look at the work of Frank Gohlke

Above is a Frank Gohlke photograph, House — Waxahachie, Texas, 1978, from the book American Images. I bought a print of this image from Frank in 1983 on my way back from a workshop with him.

I discovered Frank Gohlke in the early ’80s. I had heard friends of mine discussing his work and how they had gone to the opening of the installation of his work as large murals in the Tulsa, Oklahoma airport. I was intrigued and tried to get them to talk Frank into doing a workshop in Kalamazoo, Michigan so I could go. I also started to research and investigate Frank’s work and whether he was doing any workshops that year. I had met Jim Knipe at a Film in the Cities workshop and he knew of Frank doing a workshop up near Hibbing, Minn. for the University of Minnesota. I was excited and Jim and I got together and went off to Hibbing. The workshop was a real eye opener for me. I had just started to figure out what it was I wanted to photograph and had some thoughts and ideas on why I was attracted to the subject, but talking with Frank at this workshop sent me on the path I still am on today. Shooting Midwestern towns and neighborhoods.

At the workshop Frank would review each participant’s portfolio during our group sessions. I realized quickly that Frank was truly intuitive in his view of people’s work. He had the uncanny ability to understand where the person was in their development, as well as why and what they were shooting. When he reviewed my images I felt like I was talking with myself, except a much smarter self— one with a lot more insight and experience. Jim and Frank and I spent several late, late nights sitting up talking about all sorts of things, but especially about photography and literature and how they were so intertwined, in that, they both presented stories and scenes to a viewer or listener with the hopes that they would be able to see clearly what was being presented.

I talked Frank into doing a workshop in Kalamazoo later that year and once again I realized how truly amazing and intelligent person he is. My brain was on overload when I was with him. I looked at his work — I was enthralled with the way he printed his images, with midtones so rich and silvery and shadows with endless detail and yet with enough black to hold the image together. These images weren’t like Ansel Adams’ Wagnerian presentations, they were far more subtle, and you had to work with them, like a book, in order to understand them and to see what Frank was presenting to you. I loved them.

When I came back from the workshop in Minnesota, I told Frank I wanted to buy a print. So we stopped at his house and he took me to the print room, boxes and boxes of prints on shelving. He said, “Look at anything you want, I have some things I have to do, just lock up when you leave.” I was floored. I could afford one print and I had to chose “one” out of all these images. I finally, after several hours, settled on a print and left Frank a note. He called me the next day and said he didn’t have time to make a print for me right then, but that I could have the reference print I had seen at his house. This print had all his dodging and burning notes pencilled on the back of the print. I told him I could wait, but he said if he needed it, he knew where it was. I still have that print. I used that print to learn how to print my early images.

Later in the ’80s I got married and lost track of my work, as well as Frank, but now that I am shooting again, I have come back to Frank and read his book: “Thoughts on Landscape”. Here I find a wealth of ideas and thoughts, which help to explain my own voice and how I bring that voice to the images I have found myself photographing again.

Do yourself a favor and discover Frank Gohlke. But be prepared to take your time and think about the images he presents to you. These images aren’t just a picture of the aftermath of a volcano, a tornado or are they just simple grain elevators. Take your time and think while you look, there’s a whole world being presented here, full of seriousness, humor and above all ideas you can ponder the rest of your life.

Frank Gohlke video

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