Next to Bernd and Hilla Becher, Stephen Shore and Henry Wessel, Lewis Baltz is one of the most prominent representatives of the New Topographics movement, which was seminal to the development of conceptual photography.
Baltz’s photo series document the side effects of industrial civilization on the landscape, focusing on places that lie outside the bounds of canonical reception: urban wastelands, abandoned industrial sites, warehouses. His photographs uncover the correspondences between spatial forms that occur in the everyday world and advanced forms found in art. Baltz’s strategies imply a reflexive knowledge of the history of photography in that they deploy the photographer as a teacher of seeing who makes things visible through reductive gestures. He already turned in the mid-1960s towards a reduced, minimalist-style aesthetic, orienting himself on artists in the fields of painting, sculpture and Land Art.
The Prototype Works and the 25-piece The Tract Houses are among his earliest projects, which broke with mainstream photographic traditions to reveal pronounced modernist references. Baltz manages in his work to extend the notion of the documentary; he “emphasizes the paradoxical position of photography within the art history of its time” (Sheryl Conkelton).
Baltz’s minimalist and reduced image compositions explore the photographic style as a process, and refer not only to the art of photographers like Lee Friedlander or Robert Frank but also to painters and sculptors of his day such as Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Jasper Johns or Sol LeWitt. Convergences are to be found in his formal and aesthetic compositional patterns as well as in the content he fixes on, which Baltz subjects to a highly critical analysis, without however losing sight of essentials. The focus is on universal aspects instead of particularities, as expressed above all in his “Prototype Works”.