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Book Reviews: Reconstructing the View

Reconstructing the View. Photographs by Mark Klett & Byron Wolfe
Text by Rebecca Senf & Stephen Pyne.
Published by University of California Press, 2012.
Reconstructing the View
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins

Reconstructing the View
Photographs by Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. Text by Rebecca Senf & Stephen Pyne.
University Of California Press, 2012. Hardbound. 208 pp., illustrated throughout, 10x12-1/4".

Mark Klett and frequent collaborator Byron Wolfe bring the rephotography project to the rim of the Grand Canyon in Reconstructing the View. Primarily photo-based depictions of this natural wonder – from modernist abstractions to garish tourist postcards – are both conspicuously inserted and insinuated into their composite imagery. Environmental historian Stephen J. Pyne contextualizes the canyon's visual history for the catalog, detailing how this place became fodder for so many scientist-adventurers, artists and entrepreneurs, from high to low culture and back again. Klett's first conception of rephotography succeeded within the narrow strictures of "before and after" pairings with past vantage points, if not points of view. Perceived commonalities gave way to all that was distinct, materially and conceptually, from past to present images of western American landscapes. In Reconstructing the View, then and now come together in a broader repertoire of digital collage and overlay. Like ace jigsaw puzzlers, Klett and Wolfe take on the challenge of the Grand Canyon's vastness and relatively homogeneous topography in this latest reconstruction.

Reconstructing the View, by Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. Published by University Of California Press, 2012.
Reconstructing the View, by Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. Published by University Of California Press, 2012.

On one hand, their exacting correspondences of ridgelines and outcroppings suggest both a constancy of the canyon's geographical profile over time and a veracity in its depiction. Yet the pair also set up a variable play of environment and tone, as well as conceptual vantage point, in the weaving together of disparate media (that sometimes literally encapsulates a viewer). The photographers believe that a transparent revelation of their artistic process – in both material tools and working methodology – is essential to how the work comes to mean. Curator Rebecca A. Senf delves into this aspect at length in her catalog essay, heroizing the artists' process of discovery and creation as she connects them to a lineage of scientist-artists who have explored and depicted the canyon first. At times her tone feels a bit overly congratulatory of the Klett-Wolfe collaborative experience, comprised of packaged sub-sets like the historic mash-up and the stitched panorama. While this text is a well-research delineation of their methodology, I find that an overemphasis on process runs the risk of deflating the power of the best images in this series.

Reconstructing the View, by Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. Published by University Of California Press, 2012.
Reconstructing the View, by Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe. Published by University Of California Press, 2012.

When Klett and Wolfe utilize a self-evident and formally simple conflation of source imagery and reconstructed view, they create a realm that is both portal and roadblock to an experience of the passage of time and an evolving perspective on place. Unlike with their more stylistically and technically elaborate works, this paradoxically allows me to engage in a meaningful suspension of disbelief. It is not the knowledge of the photographers' elaborate process, but rather the works' inherent demonstration of the rigor of its pairings that pulls me in. While Klett and Wolfe may reject the nostalgia of this collection, the web-based project Dear Photograph comes to mind when I consider what it means for them to find and occupy the physical space of their chosen past views. Taking on personal rather than shared cultural views, Dear Photograph's contributors revisit sites where snapshots of pivotal life events or tender family moments were first made. In its borrowing of rephotography's precise match-ups of past and present views, it does help me to connect with one aspect of process so prized by Klett and Wolfe in Reconstructing the View and elsewhere: the importance of getting there, being a presence and inhabiting the space where the view is recalled, recognized and taken on anew.—KAREN JENKINS

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KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.