Jean Gottmann’s photographs seen from the artistic and cultural climate of the US (1953-1980)
Andrea MASALA, PACTE - Laboratorie de Sciences Sociales, France
The main assumption underpinning this study is that the photographic production of Jean Gottmann is not just a biographical visual record of his fieldworks. Indeed, it also represents a useful visual counterpoint to his geographical conceptual achievements and a significant source to understand the national traits of the places he photographed between 1953 and 1980.
In particular, the present analysis focuses on a selection of photos taken by the geographer in the US context, which is put in dialogue with the cultural and artistic frame of the times. In fact, from the juxtaposition with some paradigmatic paintings of the American Scene some contiguities emerge on multiple levels, especially in front of the works of Edward Hopper, and of the Regionalism and Social Realism artistic movements. The commonality of photographic cuts, subjects, themes and the process of travel-photography itself manifest a particular gaze and approach towards some typically American tópoi. Between them, specifically gas stations, railroads, shops, advertisement signals and colonial-time architectures were simultaneously being addressed by artists as symbols to emancipate American Art from the European school.
However, this methodology does not want to simply proceed in a mere comparative way, but it is instead aimed at evolving from a “descriptive iconography” to an “interpretative iconology” (Panofsky 1955) of Gottmann’s photos in his times. This iconological analysis is therefore aimed at enforcing the idea that, especially in the US context, Gottmann’s pictures reflect his geographic definition of “iconographies” as national identity responses to movement and change, through an innovative and interdisciplinary gaze. Such a submission to the theoretical lens guaranteed by history of art and photography (Krauss 1990) also contributes to individuate a renewed conception of the American frontier (Turner 1893) and a changed idea of movement in the post-war and Cold War USA.
Keywords: iconography|iconology|American Scene|Edward Hopper|movement