Exercise 2.3: Typologies

Brief: Read Sean O'Hagan's article on the New Topographies exhibition

Sean O'Hagan's article, New Topographics: photographs that find beauty in the banal, refers to William Jenkins's 1975 exhibition that 'rewrote the rules of landscape photography'. Alexander (2015, p. 126) even considers New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape to be "pivotal in terms of the development of the medium."

Prior to the exhibition, landscape photography had developed strong ties, associated with beauty and the sublime. There existed accepted conventions of composition that fitted into the landscape genre. Then William Jenkins presented an alternative view of landscape, at the George Eastman House in New York, which moved away from a romanticised view to a critique of the  impact of human society on the environment.

Unlike the images created by the survey photographers mentioned in Exercise 2.1, the 'Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape' emphasised the increasingly suburbanised environment. The unspoiled wilderness of the 'new frontier' was being degraded by the construction of parking lots, diners and gasoline stations. 

Whilst Jenkins's exhibition included a number of photographers who knew eachother, Alexander (2015) warns against referring to them as any kind of 'activist collective'. New topographics provided photographers with a new direction for pointing their cameras at an 'exploited' landscape as opposed to an emerging one. This new approach to documenting the landscape involved the photographer constructing the image within the frame. The angle of view is important in arranging the way geometric shapes are created from the structures in view.   

Lewis Baltz

Lewis Baltz is one of the most prominent members of the New Topographics movement. There is such simplicity in his images of urbanised environments, including the industrial parks of California. His images of industrialised wasteland, warehouses and other non-impressive buildings enter and leave the frame as bold, angular forms. He brings into focus artefacts that would otherwise be ignored by passersby. I really like how Baltz uses space in his images to create connections between different points, such as a window frame and a doorway. 

Creating tightly-cropped viewpoints, Baltz's photographic style goes against the traditional view of landscape composition. Anyone can take a photograph of a beauty-spot, that has been replicated over and over again. However Baltz persuades the viewer to take the time to stop and consider the mundane features of our world that we're usually too busy and preoccupied to notice. In the video clip below, Baltz explains his own understanding of photography:

 Photography begins with a world that's perhaps over-full, and needs to sort out from that world what's meaningful.

Stephen Shore

 © Stephen Shore

© Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore's banal images pop with colour. His image above is typical of his style. His choice of perspective is something I would like to try whilst working towards my assignment, a journey from the driver's perspective. I like the 'reality' depicted in Shore's images. They are scenes that are typical happenings, unlike images that have been constructed and planned. A photographer intending to create a picturesque landscape photograph will spend time selecting the ideal position, framing and time of the day to capture the setting at its best. Whereas there is an element of spontaneity to Shore's images; the subject matters more than its composition. 

Edward Ruscha

Published Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations in 1963 a typology of the gas stations on Ruscha's journey home on Route 66 from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City. Alexander (2015) believes that "the simplicity of Ruscha's strategy and straightforwardness of his pictures...exemplify the methodologies of the practitioners included in New Topographics."  His photographs are collated into a photo-book, however they are not in the chronological order you would expect for a journey. Using this method of publishing his images was considered seminal at the time. 

Typological Approaches

Bernd and Hilla Becher. Winding Towers, Belgium, Germany. 1971–91. © Hilla Becher

Photographing things that have a commonality, and arranging them in a way similar to Winding Towers by Bernd and Hilla Becher (Above) is a form of photography that I've seen but never realised that it was a specific 'type' of photography.

In Bernd and Hilla Becher's monochrome images of dilapidated German architecture, the landscape, as a scenic view, takes a back seat, whilst the main subject is the centre of the viewer's attention, filling the frame. Before starting this course I would never have considered this style of photography to be classed as 'landscape'. To me it borders on the architectural style of photography. 

Each image is arranged so that it can be compared with those that it shares a similarity to. Looking at 'Winding Towers' I wonder what Bernd and Hilla Becher's reasons were for choosing that particular layout

Whilst thinking ahead to my second assignment, I am wondering whether I can use this style of layout to document my journey.  






Alexander, J. A. P. (2015) Perspectives on Place: Theory and Practice in Landscape Photography. Bloomsbury: London