Following the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and the subsequent public survey along the Sixth Principal Meridian, the Great Plains was officially opened to development and the surveyor’s grid provided the basis for cataloguing the open expanse. Drawing on the remarkable history of 19th century survey photography, Joe Deal’s new series of photographs, West and West, serves as a meditation on landscape and history, and their place in the realms of imagination and representation.
Robert Mann Gallery will exhibit a selection of photographs from this body of work, which continues Deal’s keen observation of the forms and markers of built and natural landscapes. While West and West eschews the imagery of development for which Deal is best known, this project still connotes the impact of human-initiated processes by asking the viewer to think historically and consider what in a landscape has changed and also what has not changed. Focusing on the Great Plains also marks a return to the region where Deal grew up. West and West offered the opportunity to reconnect with what he calls “the dreamed landscape” of his childhood, now framed by the complicating knowledge of the history that shaped the land. In the introduction to the book of the same title, published in 2009 by the Center for American Places, Deal writes,
The act of making a photograph is not all that different from the act performed by the surveyors. Both are essentially visual; both impose a frame around something that has no clear boundaries of its own. In some respects, making these photographs was a kind of reenactment, a way of knowing what it must have been like to lay a straight line down over a vast plain. Only, in my case, and from my vantage point in time, the intention is to reimagine what lies beneath the grid. If the square, as employed in the surveys of public lands, could function like a telescope, framing smaller and smaller sections of the plains, it can also be used as a window, equilaterally divided by the horizon, that begins with a finite section of earth and sky and restores them in the imagination to the vastness that now can only exist as an idea: the landscape contained within the perfect symmetry of the square implies infinity.
West and West: Reimagining the Great Plains is Joe Deal’s third solo exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery. Joe Deal: New Work was recently presented as a solo exhibition at the Museum of Art RISD, and travels to the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona this summer. Deal is also included in the touring re-creation of the landmark exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. He is represented in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and George Eastman House, Rochester, New York. Born in Topeka, Kansas in 1947, Joe Deal lives in Providence, Rhode Island.