Richard Lohmann’s photographs explore maritime themes, the images organized into suites such as “Harbors and Ports,” “Shipyards and Dry Docks,” “Wrecks and Salvages” and “Waterways and Shipping Lanes.”
The suites provide a guide to Lohmann’s recent work, which will be on view through November 6 at Avenue 25 Gallery in San Mateo. A reception for the artist will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the gallery.
Lohmann, who says his works “reside comfortably between the boundaries of documentary and interpretative landscape photography,” earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in photography from San Francisco State University. As an undergraduate in 1980, Lohmann was introduced to the intriguing history of the San Francisco waterfront through poet/longshoreman Robert Carson’s Art and Labor class.
Lohmann says the class taught him “… to understand the cataclysmic changes that were taking place in every modern port in the world”; the changes from loading cargo by hand to adopting a fully mechanized industrial operation. He says he wanted to use photography to “create a visual record of those places in transition.”
After finishing college, Lohmann spent several years photographing natural landscapes and exhibiting his work nationally and internationally. He has been a professor of photography at College of San Mateo since 1987 and is a workshop instructor at the Ansel Adams Gallery.
Lohmann’s return to a maritime theme began in 2006 when he found the old steam schooner Wapama floating in the Point Richmond harbor, on the same barge it had been sitting on since 1979. It was like “seeing an old friend,” he says.
He decided to approach his subject with “a broader scope” than he took with his original maritime photos.
“I thought about it for two years before I began,” he says. “Then I shot and I shot.” The Avenue 25 exhibition contains works culled from 455 images.
The “Wapama” is among the pictures in “Wrecks and Salvages,” which explores ships falling into a category Lohmann describes as “the broken and the damned — where these ships become a metaphor for mortality.”
Some images are dependent on a sense of scale. For example, in “Leaving the Golden Gate, Facing the Farallon Islands, San Francisco, CA” (from the “Waterways and Shipping Channels” suite), a tiny ship heading out to open sea is dwarfed by the ocean below and a sky of storm clouds above.
Other photographs capture the peeling and polluting “ghost fleet” of mothball Navy ships that seem frozen in time, and dry dock areas that offer a sense of new possibilities.
“We live in this unbelievable area,” Lohmann says. “The natural harbor of San Francisco is astonishing.” He recalls the first time he saw the Transamerica Pyramid. “It was almost accidental …” he notes. “I was photographing a boat and was suddenly aware of the architectural presence.” He says he hopes his photographs encourage others to notice what is around them as well as to gain a sense of appreciation for the area’s maritime history.
He thinks he has another decade of work to go in his maritime project, but he finds it’s more difficult to get access to sites these days. There are places he wants to go but simply can’t.
Most of Lohmann’s photographs are 24 inches by 30 inches. He uses a classic 8×10 view camera and film “because I have it — and it’s super-high resolution.”
With the new semester starting at College of San Mateo, Lohmann is enthusiastic about the school’s new digital photography facility.
“What’s done in the show is what the students have at the college. It’s a wonderful opportunity,” he says.
“Richard Lohmann — Recent Work,” presented with support from the Luminous Landscape Endowment, is on display is on the second floor of the gallery, 32 W. 25th Ave., San Mateo. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Contact www.richardlohmann.com.
The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo County Times on Sept. 8, 2009. It is being reprinted with the permission of the San Mateo County Times and protected from unauthorized reprinting by copyright law.