John Pfahl’s photographs pay homage to the American tradition of nineteenth-century landscape painting, especially the work of the Luminists and Hudson River School. Sometimes revisiting the same sites as his predecessors, Pfahl explores the ways in which such imagery is received in a modern context. The Niagara region is an area the artist has photographed extensively. Several years prior to the “Niagara Sublime” series, from which Leviathan hails, he photographed the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.
Pfahl’s presentation of Niagara Falls is unlike the panoramic, majestic views we are accustomed to seeing. Instead, in “Niagara Sublime,” the artist presents the viewer with a vantage point that is void of trees, people, or buildings, offering up a more startling depiction of this natural wonder. According to the artist, “I was interested at the time in the idea of the sublime landscape . . . ‘an agreeable terror.’ And so I took a very long telephoto lens to thrust myself, as it were, into the Falls with my camera. And so it totally eliminated guard rails and so that one could have the feeling of terror from these photographs.”
Label from Picturing Niagara, September 30, 2017–August 5, 2018