The Photographs of Frank Gohlke

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Frank Gohlke is widely considered as the leading artist in landscape photography because of his ability to capture humanity’s interaction with nature in various forms.  His fascination with the environment’s inclination towards unexpected change that could bring about growth or destruction is documented in his photographs.  In this paper, Gohlke’s Grain Elevator and Lightning Flash, Lamesa, Texas taken in 1975 will be analyzed to understand what make this person a leader among his peers.  This photograph is part of the Accommodating Nature: The Photographs of Frank Gohlke exhibit organized and sponsored by the Amon Carter Museum.   Being a modernist, Gohlke’s subject matter is something familiar and common but he has given it a different meaning from the way it was taken.  The relevance of Gohlke’s picture can be determined by identifying and describing how content is presented using photographic techniques and styles.


In this black and white photograph, Gohlke has captured on film the highway in La Mesa with the Grain Elevator owned by Kimbell Milling Co. to the left and the electric posts to the right side of the road.  Being a black and white photo, it is not readily apparent whether it has already rained or is about to.  Looking closely, the road appears to be glistening and wet.  If it is wet, then, it has already rained.  The lightning streak visible to the rightmost side of the photo could mean that the rain has ended, as lightning generally comes when the rain is over or about to stop.

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The grain elevator was set against a backdrop of cloudy skies.  The clouds near the structures are clearly defined, some of them still dark with rain.  The background added to the message of the picture.  Aside from the main subjects, other objects in the photograph include a fenced square buildings across the grain elevator.  On the far side of the picture, what appears like a water tower is visible in front of small buildings.  Half of a vehicle is also visible in front of the grain elevator.  There is also a tree and some grasses at the side of the road.

The photographer did not stay close to the subject in order to get a panoramic shot.  To be able to shot the lightning and the elevator within the same frame, the photographer must be some distance from both with the camera facing upward.  From the angle of the road and the appearance of lightning towards the rightmost portion, the photographer was probably sitting at the right side of the highway, waiting for the right opportunity to capture on film a streak of lightning. On the technical aspect of the photo, the subjects are clearly focused and there were some textures in shadow, which means the photo was properly exposed.  The lightning streak was captured in full, implying a lot about the photographer’s skill.  It is evident that the photographer had been patiently waiting to capture that perfect lightning to complement its grain elevator. There are no blurring in the entire image, except for the part where lightning made the area bright or white for that matter.  The white area around the lightning indicates that it was a strong one.  In terms of lighting, the photographer had used soft even lighting, which made the image appealing to the eyes.  Although, even if the photographer had used harsh lighting, the image would still retain its appeal.

The photographer has used the roads, being very straight, as lines to guide the eyes through the image.  The presence of the road effectively divides the picture into man-made and that of nature.  The roads also give the image an impression of distance since the farther from the grain elevator the viewer looks, the more converging the lines comprising the roads become. On a personal level, the picture makes me think of how cruel nature can be.  A lighting that strong only comes after a rumbling thunder.  A person hit with that kind of lightning in the picture would not survive.  The thought of the lightning hitting the grain elevator raises questions of whether the structure would be damaged or not.  The wetness of the roads brings to mind how refreshing it feels after a rain.  Rain clears the air of dust and the pollution brought on by industrial facilities, like the grain elevator.  The long roads, free from traffic, looks inviting.  A car could speed by the grain elevator without fear of encountering another vehicle for miles.  But the road could be slippery and may cause the car to skid.  All of these thoughts are caused by simply looking at a photograph of a grain elevator and a lightning in the sky after a downpour.

Gohlke has made his photographs reflect how Americans have built their lives within the context of a world that is ruled by a nurturing nature that could destroy what it gave in an instant.  The Grain Elevator and Lightning Flash is a reflection of how people have adopted industrialization. Yet, with all man’s tall structures and automated processes, nature remains in the background, ready to strike in a flash like lightning.  The photographer has always shown boundaries between nature and man.  In the Grain Elevator photo, the background clearly belongs to nature while the grain elevator stands in stark contrast, a man-made structure that stands alone amid a vast horizon.


Gohlke has deftly used photography to document in a modernistic approach his favorite subject — that of nature.  In the Grain Elevator photograph, the photographer had artistically presented yet another contrast between nature and man.  In 1975, a grain elevator was a wonderful tool that resulted from the industrialization of the country.  But when presented in a background of clouds and lightning, the grain elevator looked proud and strong but alone and vulnerable at the same time.  Because of this ability to make a picture come alive and tell its own story, Gohlke has earned his place as a leader in the world of landscape photography.


  1. Amon Carter Museum: Works of Art.  Elevator Grain and Lightning Flash, La Mesa, Texas, 1975.  Retrieved October 13, 2008, from
  2. Gohlke, F., ; Rohrback, J.  (2007).  Accommodating Nature: The Photographs of Frank Gohlke. Chicago,IL: The Center for American Places at Columbia College/The Amon Carter Museum.
  3. Peterson, N.  (1984).  Photographic Art: Media and Disclosure.  Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press.

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The Photographs of Frank Gohlke. (2017, Feb 20). Retrieved from

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