Found Pfahls: The Making of ‘Altered Landscapes’
A recent exhibition at Janet Borden Inc. in New York displayed a collection of vintage Ektacolor Plus prints and recent pigment prints that we might interpret as visual anecdotes that accompanied the making of his meticulously composed and crafted Altered Landscapes series in the 1970s. We could make a comparison between the photographer’s approach and this collection of Found Pfahls to the now fairly ubiquitous use of smartphones and social media by photographers to document and augment the process and production of their projects.
In the justly celebrated Altered Landscapes, Pfahl didactically reveals the process of perspective and the monocular point-of-view of photographic vision. He introduces material to the ‘view’ directly in front of the camera such as tape, ribbon and other marks to delineate regular shapes and patterns that conflict with our brain’s desire to read the picture as the representation of a three-dimensional space. These simple and playful interventions are witty, but there is simultaneously something a little disconcerting in the way they reveal the limitation of ocular vision.
If we make a quick methodological distinction between ’taking’ and ‘making’ photographs, then Altered Landscapes can offer a pretty concrete example of the ‘made’ kind, and by comparison, we might define the photographs from Found Pfahls as belonging to the ‘taken’ category: opportunistic observations opposed to premeditated tableaux. (Not to suggest any kind of hierarchy between the two approaches.) Although made four decades ago, specific temporal references are generally absent from many of the colour photographs from Found Pfahls. There is vivid imagery of American culture, but not that much Americana. The timelessness of Pfahl’s imagery is perhaps indicative of how staid is the popular perception of ‘nature’ and the land. Where the Altered Landscapes critiques the mechanics of seeing, Found Pfahls – the ‘the making of’ that work – critiques the way we frame the landscape from cultural perspectives.