Mount St. Helens

Photographs by Frank Gohlke

Jun 29–Sep 26, 2005


Frank Gohlke. Aerial View, Downed Forest Near Elk Rock, Approximately Ten Miles Northwest of Mount St. Helens, Washington. 1981. Gelatin silver print, 17 7/8 × 21 7/8″ (45.7 × 55.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Shirley C. Burden. © 2005 Frank Gohlke
  • MoMA, Floor 3

The eruption of Mount St. Helens in southwest Washington on May 18, 1980, devastated an area of 140 square miles. With force comparable to a large nuclear explosion, the blast decimated three-quarters of a cubic mile of the mountain, sending debris fourteen miles into the atmosphere. Flows of hot gases, ash, and pumice at temperatures up to 1600ºF rolled down the mountainside at almost 100 miles per hour. The eruption killed more than sixty people, leveled over 40,000 acres, and damaged an additional 20,000 acres of timber.

Born in 1942, Frank Gohlke is a leading figure in American landscape photography. From 1981 to 1990 he visited Mount St. Helens five times, working on the ground and from the air over a wide area. In broad vistas and intimate details, Gohlke marshalled the relentless specificity of his medium to address an event of Old Testament grandeur. This exhibition of forty-three black-and-white prints presents the completed series for the first time.

The exhibition is accompanied by a book with reproductions of all the photographs in the exhibition, notes by the photographer, and an essay on Mount St. Helens and the geology of volcanoes by Kerry Sieh and Simon LeVay, authors of The Earth in Turmoil.

Organized by Peter Galassi, Chief Curator, and John Szarkowski, Director Emeritus, Department of Photography.

The book is made possible by The John Szarkowski Publications Fund.


  • Mount St. Helens: Photographs by Frank Gohlke Hardcover, 88 pages


Installation images

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