Measure of Emptiness.
Grain Elevators in the American Landscape.


Photographs and essay by Frank Gohlke. Essay by John C. Hudson.
The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, USA, 1992. In English. 107 pp., numerous duotone plates, 8½x11x½".



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“In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is,” said Gertude Stein. From the Midway area of Minneapolis to the prairie grasslands of Kansas, the American landscape is characterized by this spaciousness—and by the presence of windowless, rumbling, enormous grain elevators, rising above the steeples of churches to announce the presence of a town and to explain, in great measure, the function of its inhabitants.

Why did their builders choose that particular form to fulfill a practical necessity? And how does the experience of great emptiness shape what people think, feel, and do? Frank Gohlke, one of America's foremost photographers of landscape, has pondered and documented the relationship between these enormous structures and the emptiness of the surrounding landscape for the past two decades. The result is this evocative sequence of images, beginning with Gohlke's earliest formal studies of structural fragments and their mechanisms, and gradually expanding to depict the grain elevator as a part of the landscape. His camera eventually retreats so far that the grain elevator disappears in the horizon, and only the landscape—the “space where nobody is”—is visible.

Introducing the photographs is a personal essay by Gohlke on the relationship between people and their space, and the ways in which that relationship actually creates a landscape. A concluding historical essay by John C. Hudson details the development and function of the grain elevator and its geographical and economic role in American life.


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