In certain frames he also included a human for scale. In one print
, for example, a man stands at the base of Smithson’s work, where the spiral meets the rest of the land. The photograph highlights the landscape’s imposing dominance. Gorgoni reveals that the figure is Smithson himself. The photographer was always alert to the artist’s movements as he checked the small details of the massive piece. These images are about more than a monumental natural sculpture: they document the relationship between a man and his massive creation.
Sometimes, Gorgoni was merely in the right place at the right time. After shooting Spiral Jetty, Gorgoni traveled to see Bruce Nauman in Pasadena, near Los Angeles. On the way back, he stopped by a bar on Sunset Boulevard where West Coast artists congregated (he can’t remember which one). He heard someone calling his name: it was Walter de Maria. The pair had a drink with Michael Heizer, who was also there.
Both artists were preparing to create, or had already created, their own desert artworks, and Gorgoni followed. He captured Heizer’s earthbound “drawings,” for which the artist rode a motorcycle in circles on the desert sand, leaving geometrically precise tracks. For a separate project (executed in 1968), de Maria had drawn parallel, mile-long chalk lines across the Mojave Desert, spotted best by airplane and quickly washed and blown away by natural elements. “This work doesn’t exist anymore. It exists only in my photographs,” says Gorgoni.
Gorgoni didn’t always see eye to eye with the Land Artists whose work he captured. De Maria wanted to own any negatives of pictures of his Lightning Field (1977), controlling how and where they were published. Gorgoni wanted to maintain the rights himself, and lost the opportunity to photograph the piece. Nevertheless, he remains the most prominent documenter of the movement. “The photographs are critical,” says William Fox, Director of the Nevada Museum of Art’s Center for Art + Environment. “Most people will not see these projects in person, or they’re projects which have disappeared.”