Tar Landscapes 1984-1987
“When seeing the object itself, unadorned, with an open eye, miracles happen.” – William Giles
In 1984, William Giles moved to the heart of industrial Los Angeles. While living and working in his warehouse studio, he produced a series of abstract photographs of the roof of this artist loft. These “landscapes” are reminiscent of hieroglyphic messages and ancient petroglyphs, others of Rorschach inkblot tests. Giles proved to himself with these vast and spiritual images, most printed large scale, that he was able to find beauty anywhere. It is also fitting that in this city built for the automobile, he stood with his view camera on his rooftop in the heat of Los Angeles summers documenting the molten tar and imagined he was experiencing the last gasps of our Petroleum Age.
William Giles was born in 1934 and spent his childhood in London, Johannesburg and Buenos Aires. His mother, a concert pianist, and his father, a surgeon, instilled in him an early regard for the special qualities of light, a lesson that has informed his work and his life. Having put himself through Cornell by operating his own portrait studio, he would later meet W. Eugene Smith who inspired him to take up photojournalism and cover the civil rights movement. Another famous photographer was responsible for a turn in his career when Dorothea Lange encouraged him to enroll at Rochester Institute of Technology. There he came under the influence of Nathan Lyons, Ralph Hattersley, the historian Beaumont Newhall, and especially Minor White. He studied at the University of Rochester and later taught in the Department of Photography where he was also chairman. His work has been published in numerous books and portfolios. It is found in museums from San Francisco to Paris.
He is currently exhibiting his Tar Landscapes at the Monterey Museum of Art through August 29, 2021. To learn more about the exhibition, please visit the MMA website: