“Terra Firma” is summertime filler—-two small rooms of landscape photographs from the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s vaults. But in the dog days of August, filler can fit the mood perfectly.
This hodgepodge of an exhibition features characteristic landscape works by a range of photographic giants, including Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, William Henry Jackson, Timothy O’Sullivan (whose work is pictured above), Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Garry Winogrand, William Christenberry, William Eggleston, and Sally Mann, among others. It also finds space for individual works by less familiar names, including Victor Masayesva Jr., Thomas Joshua Cooper, Claudia Smigrod, and Victoria Sambunaris.
A number of the finest images are familiar from previous Corcoran exhibits: an Allen Dutton image of agricultural furrows in Arizona that mirror the pattern of the state flag; Richard Misrach’s contemplative, large-format photograph made in the Nevada desert; and an entire room devoted to Mads Gamdrup’s explorations of similarities between stark, unpopulated landscapes in Egypt, Iceland, Morocco, and the United States. (The current showing of Gamdrup’s work improves upon the 2011 original by placing the images in closer proximity to each other, suggesting, to a viewer standing in the middle, a zoetrope frozen mid-spin.)
Other memorable works in the exhibit are portraitist August Sander’s atypical image of windblown trees; Carrie Mae Weems’ grim pairing of a photograph of a seemingly peaceful Southern idyll with sheet music for a song about fugitive-slave capture; and Edward Burtynsky’s monumental image of China’s Three Gorges Dam under construction.
Two artists, however, are most notable for sharing a focus on landscapes behind the landscape. The British artists Jane and Louise Wilson visited Hoover Dam and photographed not its bold, concrete curvature but rather its overlooked, but vital, guts—-a pair of internal maintenance corridors bathed in a sickly green light.
Similarly, Alec Soth eschewed the power and grandeur of nature when photographing Niagara Falls, focusing instead on the area’s shabbier quarters. Soth used a large-format camera to photograph a young mother holding her baby in a working-class neighborhood, both dressed in yellow apparel. The photograph isn’t really a landscape at all, but for an exhibit of summertime filler, Soth’s image is sufficiently revelatory that we won’t quibble.
Through Sept. 28 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Thu-Fri-Sat-Sun 10-5, Wed 10-9.