The eruption of Mount St. Helens in southwest Washington state on May 18, 1980, provided Gohlke with a challenging opportunity for which his earlier work had prepared him well. At that time he was working on Aftermath, a project in his hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas. A tornado had struck the city in April 1979, and Gohlke recorded the devastation in a series of photographs. In June 1980 he returned to the site of each picture to measure the progress of human reconstruction and natural regeneration.
The Texas tornado was a powerful event, but the eruption of the Washington volcano invoked nature's force on a much grander scale. In the summer of 1981, Gohlke embarked upon an ambitious series of photographic campaigns at Mount St. Helens. He returned in 1982, 1983, 1984, and finally in 1990, working on the ground and from the air.
In 1983 Gohlke wrote about the project: "Mount St. Helens is in part a marvelous laboratory in which to examine the limits of photographic information. . . . [It] provides a theater in which the sublime can be experienced without embarrassment or irony. I feel that I encounter at Mount St. Helens, in a concentrated form, all the issues that inform my work. The magnitude of the phenomena I am attempting to describe forces me continually to respond to what I cannot grasp, to abandon certainties, and to try to describe what I cannot yet understand."
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 43.