Newly Named Guggenheim Fellows Reflect on Landscape Photography

Richard Rothman, professor of photography at the School of Visual Arts, makes melancholic work in the American West that could perhaps be better described as social landscape. He lists Carleton Watkins, Robert Adams and Lee Friedlander as early influences, but with this project, he says “I want to consider a certain exhaustion of hope and optimism that lies beneath the surface of this particular American moment. I hope I can create a record of my own transfixed experience of horror, wonder and astonishment.”

Paris Review

The fifth chapter of “Big, Bent Ears,” Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty,” features the work of Richard Rothman, a photographer whose work demonstrates “depth, dedication, and skill in evoking the enigmatic relationship between natural and built environments.” Around the time of the Big Ears Festival, Rothman spent weeks exploring Knoxville and the surrounding Smoky Mountains for twelve to fifteen hours a day; the results are astonishing. He also went to the festival itself, where he photographed Liz Harris, who performs as Grouper. He says of her performance:

It was as though she had placed a veil between herself and the audience, but one that only served to draw them in and give her a heightened level of attention. The lyrics she offered up were as illegible as tombstones polished by time and the elements. The words, or what could be made of them, seemed to be shrouded in shadows—just as she was—while filmy guitar loops decayed into richly modulated, shifting patterns that oscillated between the technological and the human.