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John Pfahl

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I want to make photographs whose very ambiguity provokes thought, rather than cuts it off prematurely. I want to make pictures that work on a more mysterious level, that approach the truth by a more circuitous route.

John Pfahl's various projects©©Ã
Altered Landscapes, Picture Windows, Power Places, Arcadia RevisitedÄ
manifest an underlying continuity that can be defined as a dedication to ideas about nature and the effects of human intervention on nature.
In the early seventies, Pfahl, a passionate music lover, composed a score for percussion by making markings on trees with tape and string. This activity could be seen as the beginning of his involvement with his series, " Altered Landscapes." Pfahl has noted that "some of my earliest memories are of listening to music" and the idea of producing a photographic musical score appealed to him. The 131 images that make up Altered Landscapes reveal Pfahl's great technical facility and his continuing love of photography and the landscape.
Pfahl's desire to spend less time fabricating a composition, as well as his wish to extend his photography season into the winter months, contributed to his idea to photograph landscapes from indoors. The elaborate sets constructed before photographing an altered landscape usually required lengthy preparations and always the cooperation of the weather. The result is Picture Windows, a series which emphasizes the significance of the window and the view found within its frame.
The stunning sight of an oil refinery surrounded by a glorious landscape bathed in the brilliant light of the Southwest provoked John Pfahl to consider a subject he had been acutely aware of, but had avoided: the inherent conflict between nature and industry. It was with the series Ã
Power PlacesÄ
that Pfahl first addressed this complex subject. Pfahl understood that this conflict©©brought to the forefront of our conscience by the problems of nuclear energy©©was not newly founded, and he did not intend his photographs to serve as propaganda toward either side of an extremely complex issue. That these photographs are embraced by both allies and fores of the nuclear power industry attest to their compelling power and beauty.
In 1982, a group of Niagara Falls, New York, residents, devoted to the revitalization of "community pride and national interest", organized a committee to plan a celebration of the centennial anniversary of a publication by Amos W. Sangster (1883©1903). Sangster, a native of Buffalo, worked for three years on a comprehensive and heartfelt study that documented the course of the Niagara River. Comprising fifty full©plate etchings and 103 vignettes, Sangster's detailed account of Ã
The Niagara River and Falls from Lake Erie to Lake OntarioÄ
, 1886, resulted from the artist's direct observations of his subject, rather than a reliance on pictorial formulas typical of the period. In order to acknowledge the subject of this graphic feat, the Sangster committee commissioned John Pfahl as a photographer "sensitive to the working methods and aesthetics of his predecessor." Ã
Arcadia RevisitedÄ
was the result of two years of intensive research and exploration of Niagara Falls.
John Pfahl was born in New York in 1939 and grew up in rural New Jersey. He began his interest in photography at Syracuse University, where he was a student enrolled in a program of advertising and graphic design. Importantly, his earliest work was in color. Following two years in the Army he worked for commercial photographers in New York City and California. In 1966 he returned to Syracuse and studied color photography, graduating two years later with a Master's Degree. He has been on faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology since 1968.