Alan Ward may have taken photographs of landscape architecture for four decades—and of works built between over the better part of two centuries—but his images are entirely removed from time.
Ward, whose works are on display at the National Building Museum, makes black-and-white images of largely unpopulated scenes notable for their peace and quiet. This approach fits with his philosophy that black-and-white photography is superior for revealing landscapes “not by color but by light, tone, and contrast.”
The exhibit moves deliberately through the history of landscape architecture, starting with such pre-1900s works as Middleton Plantation in South Carolina, where Ward skillfully documents the gnarled branch of an oak tree, and Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts, where he captures an eerily bright reflection on tombstones even as the sky above turns dark.
One image, of D.C.’s Dumbarton Oaks, traces a sinuous S-curved path, while another, at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor, Maine, captures the delicate chiaroscuro of a series of unevenly chiseled steps and the amiably meandering edge where a lawn meets a footpath.
Ward is particularly skilled at using distinctly horizontal formats to simultaneously capture both side-to-side sweeps and deep recessions, such as one image of the Blue Ridge Parkway that traces the roadway crossing the frame before heading off to the horizon, and another of the Miller Garden in Columbus, Ind., that shows a pebbled path lined by stately trees.
The most recently built landscapes lack the serenity of earlier ones, but Ward does them justice as well, as when he captures Seattle’s Gas Works Park with people enjoying themselves along the ridge of a hill in the middle-distance and the rest of the city bustling further out. Ward’s images document only a tiny, often elite slice of our world, but they are worthy memorials of artistic masterpieces nonetheless.
Through Sept. 5 at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. (202) 272-2448. Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.–5 p.m.