Lewis Baltz, a star of the New Topographics movement of the late 1960s and 70s, has died. According to his longtime gallerist Theresa Luisotti, the photographer passed away at his home in Paris, France, on Saturday, November 22, 2014 of complications related to cancer and emphysema. He was 69 years old.
Along with Robert Adams, Frank Gohlke and Stephen Shore, Baltz was a major contributor to the New Topography, a movement that broadened the scope of landscape photography, famously bursting onto the art scene with the famed exhibition “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape,” at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, in 1975. Baltz is best known for his bleak suburban landscapes—stark images of manmade structures devoid of human presence—such as those in his seminal 1974 book, The New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California.
“South Wall Mazda Motos, 2121 East Main Street, Irvine” on the original cover of “The new Industrial Parks near Irvine, California” as published by Castelli Graphics in 1974.
Baltz was born in Newport Beach, California, on September 12, 1945. His parents owned a mortuary business. The rapidly developing Southern California suburbs heavily influenced Baltz; he witnessed firsthand the cities’ sprawl, devouring the landscape with concrete and asphalt as it spread.
He was exposed to photography and art as a teen, when he took a job working in a camera store in Laguna Beach and was mentored by its owner, William Current. He would study at the San Francisco Art Institute and the Claremont Graduate School.
After the “New Topographics” show at Eastman House, the Castelli Gallery in New York exhibited work from The New Industrial Parks, and by 1977, his work was included in the Whitney Biennial.
His books Park City (1980) and San Quentin (1984)would form an informal trilogy with The New Industrial Parks, exploring the role of humanity’s use of technology to shape the American landscape. The exploration would culminate in his 84-image Candlestick Point project, which documented an open space between an airport and sports stadium where, thanks to development, all signs of nature had been stamped out.
Baltz moved to Europe in the late 1980s, began working with color, and eventually started teaching graduate courses at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. He is survived by his wife Slavica Perkovic and his daughter Monica Baltz.