The book discusses Mario Pfeifer’s recent 16mm film installation Reconsidering The new Industrial Parks near Irvine, California by Lewis Baltz, 1974. This installation, consisting of two synchronized, looped, and parallel projected films, takes its point of departure from the first monograph of Baltz’s work, published by Castelli Graphics, New York in 1974.
Over the last four decades, Lewis Baltz has continuously produced highquality photographic books. This publication functions as a critical reader, reevaluating “New Topographics” as representations of landscapes. Looking at Pfeifer’s installation, which re-visits a Baltz’s photographic site, Vanessa Joan Müller negotiates the terms realism / reality and the way Pfeifer discovers the mis-representation of a modern industrial building in Irvine’s Industrial Park in 2009. Martin Hochleitner contextualizes Pfeifer’s film installation within the context of the original “New Topographics” exhibitions (1975), which, since 2009, are being shown throughout the United States and Europe. In addition, this publication consists of film stills, production stills, and a rare interview by Mario Pfeifer with Lewis Baltz.
In her introduction to this critical reader Julia Moritz notes the following:
"One of the rare interviews given by Lewis Baltz — published here for the first time in conversation with Mario Pfeifer — highlights the difficulty in formulating the open questions generated by that particular photographic work, as well as its distributive processing. With and beyond Baltz, the struggle for an adequate terminology and the meaning of socio-political context for such images emerges as Pfeifer’s urgent questioning of the conceptual tradition. It becomes apparent that Baltz’s interest was geared more toward abstract,formal painting — and its political implications — rather than toward a genuinely photographic engagement. In which context then should Baltz’s work be discussed appropriately? The republishing of Baltz’s short, untitled text from 1974 provides a clue as to the horizon of Baltz’s conceptual tradition.
Alongside his work as an artist, he has published writings — albeit under a pseudonym — as an architecture critic and theorist. “Untitled” combines the aesthetic and discursive strategies of conceptual art in an illuminating way: a list of typical characteristics — similar to the serial images themselves — of the utility buildings duly depicted (“typical characteristics” include: locations, considerations in site selections, site planning, construction techniques, functions, names, environmental relations, and economic considerations). Typicality appears to be the principal structural feature of the image-oriented utilitarianism that Baltz, by means of his photographic close reading, exposes as the driving force of postmodern conceptions of environment, work, and, indeed, life. But what is typical of Baltz’s own photographs?"
In his acclaimed essay Photography between Labor and Capital (1988), Allan Sekula proposes:
"What should be recognized here is that photographic books (and exhibitions), frequently cannot help but reproduce these rudimentary ordering schemes, and in so doing implicitly claim a share in both the authority and the illusory neutrality of the archive. Herein lies the 'primitivism' of still photography in relation to the cinema. Unlike a film, a photographic book or exhibition can almost always be dissolved back into its component parts, back into an archive. ... Photographer, archivist, editor and curator can all claim, when challenged about their interpretations, to merely passing along a neutral reflection of an already established state of affairs. Underlying this process of professional denial is a commonsensical empiricism. The photograph reflects reality. The archive accurately catalogues the ensemble of reflections, and so on."
Andrew Freeman is an artist and currently a faculty member of the Photography and Media program at The California Institute of the Arts.
Allan Sekula is a photographer, writer, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, where he teaches in the Program in Photography and Media at the California Institute of the Arts. He has explored an experimental social documentary practice since the early 1970s. His books include Photography Against the Grain, Fish Story, Geography Lesson: Canadian Notes, Performance under Working Conditions, and TITANIC's wake.
Catherine Taft is a Los Angeles-based writer and curator. She is a regular contributor to publications including Artforum, ArtReview, Modern Painters, Metropolis M and exhibition catalogs in the United States and abroad.