Exercise 2.3: Typologies Read Sean O’Hagan’s article on the New Topographics exhibition and publication: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/feb/08/new-topographicsphotographs-american-landscapes
Write down your own responses to the work of any of the practitioners O’Hagan mentions in his article, and describe your thoughts on typological approaches.
PROJECT: TYPOLOGIES AND NEW TOPOGRAPHIES
New Topographics: photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape was an exhibition curated by Williams Jenkins was a key moment in Landscape photography. It show cased the work of eight young American photographers: Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore and Henry Wessel Jr and Bernd and Hilda Becher from Germany. All except Shore worked in black and white.
Using a typological strategy for landscape was a new; its origins were in the criminology and eugenics experiments of the nineteenth-century The term ‘typology’ was coined by Augustus Pitt Rivers who was interested in the evolution of different tools and mechanical implements used by man. The new Topographics American photographers captured the creeping urbanisation and industry of 1970s shooting disused warehouses, city centre, suburbia and empty streets; “taken collectively, they seemed to posit an aesthetic of the banal” (O’Hagan, 2019). They represented the increasingly suburbanised environments around them and were reacting against the previous tradition of idealised landscape photography.
As I’m thinking about using a topographical approach for my assignment I have looked at more than one of the photographers who featured in the above exhibition.
BERND AND HILDA BECHER
In the 1950s they systematically photographed industrial structures (water towers, blast furnaces, gas tanks, mine heads, grain elevators). Their idea was to make families of objects or motifs together “a pattern of sequential experiences” (Tate, 2019).To do this they isolated objects must be isolated from their context and associations. Their images followed a rigorous set of procedural rules: standardised format and ratio of figure to ground, a uniformly level, full-frontal view, near-identical flat lighting conditions and no human presence. If this was not achieved in camera then they try to achieve in in the processing process.
(Tate, 2019) (O', 2;Hagan, 2019)
“The Becher’s brought to light typologies that had evolved outside the focus of considered design, and ultimately elevated them to the status of art” (Rose, 2019) and transformed them into minimalist art.
Their systematic, straightforward observation led to a whole school of “objective” art photography,
To some, the Becher’s’ grids of black and white subjects are dull and lifeless but I think that the way they represent them draws out some of the beauty in their form. They were also the first to treat landscape with the eyes of a collector and do open up a new way of visualising and appreciating detail.
(O’Hagan, 2019, 2)
Adams captured the new sprawls of the American West, pristine landscapes with stark housing, malls and deforestation sites; he said “The pictures record what we purchased, what we paid and what we could not buy” (Popphoto.com, 2019).
I found his explanation of why he photographs in the way that he does useful, I wanted to record what supports hope: the untranslatable mystery and beauty of the world. Along the way the camera also caught evidence against, and I eventually concluded that this too belonged in pictures if they were too be truthful and useful” (Popphoto.com, 2019). I do like the way that his pictures express both what has been lost as well as what remains, a presentation of the contradictions of progress. There is an element of silence in all his work that makes you to listen closely as well as look (O’ Hagan, 2019, 3).
It has been suggested that he is the least detached and neutral of the topographical photographers; certainly, unlike some he does use scale and distance and perhaps unwittingly provides an aesthetic.
(O’ Hagan, 2019, 3)
Also I can identify with the man who was surprised to find his own truck in one of Adams’s photographs, had this to say: “At first they’re really stark nothing, but then you really look at them and it’s just the way things are. This is interesting, it really is.” (O’ Hagan, 2019).
(O’ Hagan, 2019, 3)
To me his work is definitely a more optimistic and aesthetic approach to the manmade alterations to the landscape than the other topographical work that I’ve seen.
Frank Gohlke has focused consistently with questions of human usage and perception of land. Like the other topographical photographers he explores the ways Americans build but live in a natural world that becomes less than ideal; the effect that people have on the land. He says “I want people to get pleasure out of these images and come away with a larger sense of what’s worth paying attention to. I want to convey a sense of how rich the ordinary world is” (@digitalanika, 2019).
To help viewers to pay attention to the important stuff he deliberately tries to avoid humans in his pictures, and when he does include them they are small and only there incidentally. Gohlke also worked in black and white at that time to give the images an uncluttered look.
His pictures capture in a minimal way the tensions between the manmade and natural world. For me the simplicity and minimalist treatment of the landscapes emphasizes the human intrusions on the environments. Out of these photographers I personally admire his work the most.
Watch this video of Lewis Baltz talking about his work: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/tateshots-lewis-baltz
(O', Hagan, 2019, 2) (Tate, 2019)
His images are stark rather like Gohlkes but more abstract and lineal. He was trained to use photography as art not in a practical way. He says photography is the only deductive art, in that it begins with an overfull world and the photographer has to sort out what is meaningful. He looked at things that were common place and ordinary. Contrast, geometry, surface detail and uniformity are very evident in his images and he often displays them in a grid pattern; this also emphases the monotony of the manmade environment.
Gohlkes admires beauty but it’s not his aesthetic position, he engages in things that are interesting to think about more than are interesting to look at. I find it interesting that he wanted his “work to look like anyone could do it…. “I didn’t want to have a style. I wanted it to look as mute and as distant as to appear to be as objective as possible, but of course it’s not objective.” (O’ Hagan, 2019, 4).
I think he’s right that his work isn’t objective, he absolutely does have his own style. find his work different from the other topographical photographers as it is harder to see the natural environment, there seems to be more focus on the manmade objects; although I still appreciate that he is making meaning from ordinary objects. I think he very much does have his own style and I admire it.
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THE TOPOLOGICAL APPROACH
New topographics referred to a group of photographers who moved away from the pictorial to anti-aesthetic, non-romantic. If I hadn’t studied this approach to photography I would have probably dismissed it as dull. However now I have looked at it in detail I can appreciate that by stripping out any romanticism and presenting things in a realistic way iy enables the viewer to firstly appreciate ordinary subjects in a new light and secondly that it enables the detil in the ordinary to shine. It forms a different and useful narrative from traditional landscape photographers.
My Overall learning points:
- The banal and usually unobserved, is well worth bringing to the viewer’s attention, as I learnt in my assignment 1.
- The truth can be beautiful.
- A grid layout of images where subjects can be compared is useful to bring out detail.
- The random effects of humans on the landscape can be interesting subject matter.
- Need to consider whether it important to minimise people in a landscape or whether they may serve a purpose.
@digitalanika, F. (2019). Q and A: Frank Gohlke. [online] Smithsonian. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/q-and-a-frank-gohlke-44232755/ [Accessed 31 Jan. 2019].
Howardgreenberg.com. (2019). Frank Gohlke – Artists – Howard Greenberg Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.howardgreenberg.com/artists/frank-gohlke?view=slider#10 [Accessed 30 Jan. 2019].
Mocp.org. (2019). Museum of Contemporary Photography. [online] Available at: http://www.mocp.org/detail.php?type=related&kv=6698&t=objects [Accessed 31 Jan. 2019].
O’Hagan, S. (2019 3 ). Robert Adams: the photographer who roved the prairies for 45 years. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/feb/24/robert-adams-photographs-american-west-paris [Accessed 30 Jan. 2019].
O’Hagan, S. (2019 4). Lewis Baltz obituary. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/04/lewis-baltz [Accessed 31 Jan. 2019].
O’Hagan, S. (2019 2) . New Topographics: changing the landscape of photography. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2010/feb/08/new-topographics-landscape-photography [Accessed 30 Jan. 2019].
O’Hagan, S. (2019). New Topographics: photographs that find beauty in the banal. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/feb/08/new-topographics-photographs-american-landscapes [Accessed 30 Jan. 2019].
Popphoto.com. (2019). Consent Form | Popular Photography. [online] Available at: https://www.popphoto.com/american-photo/wall-month-robert-adamss-new-topographics [Accessed 30 Jan. 2019].
Rose, S. (2019). Remembering Bernd Becher. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/artblog/2007/sep/13/inmemoryofberndbecher [Accessed 30 Jan. 2019].
Tate. (2019). Lewis Baltz: Industrial and suburban landscape – TateShots | Tate. [online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/lewis-baltz-5373/lewis-baltz-industrial-suburban-landscape [Accessed 31 Jan. 2019].
Tate. (2019). The Photographic Comportment of Bernd and Hilla Becher – Tate Papers | Tate. [online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/01/photographic-comportment-of-bernd-and-hilla-becher [Accessed 30 Jan. 2019].
Vam.ac.uk. (2019). Robert Adams – Victoria and Albert Museum. [online] Available at: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/p/photographs-by-robert-adams/ [Accessed 30 Jan. 2019].