In this exercise, we are instructed to read Sean O’Hagan’s article on the 1975 New Topographics exhibition and watch a video of Lewis Baltz. We are then asked to write down responses to the work of any of the photographers mentioned in the O’Hagan article and thoughts on typological approaches.
O’Hagen examines the influence of William Jenkins’ 1975 exhibition, where he considers the work exhibited to be the linchpin in a turning point in Landscape photography. Jenkins Exhibition brought together a number of photographers who knew each other and who had influenced each other but the exhibition should not be considered as a “collective”. These ‘New Topographics’ allowed photographers to shift their approach of documenting the landscape. Instead of a capturing the romanticised view of the American Landscape, this approach focused instead on the changes made by man on the environment and on how society was exploiting the landscape and the environment.
By focusing on the man-made changes and the encroaching urbanisation and suburbanisation of the land, they documented the unspoiled wilderness of the ‘new frontier’ of Adams and O’Sullivan which was now being sullied and destroyed by the construction of water towers, parking lots, fuelling stations and roadside diners and drive-throughs.
The “New Topograhics” approach of constructing a narrative and vision by placing the image within the frame and isolating it allowed the geometric shape of the structure to be viewed as a shape and to show the viewer something which they regularly see but ignore. By then repeating the same view, angle and post production it shows the rhythmic shape of the narrative, enhancing it bringing to view the things constructed by man that man then ignores.
The ‘New Topograhics” approach can be identified in works such as ‘Ed Ruschas’ “Every building on Sunset Strip”. While this work does not sit tightly with the aesthetic approach outlined by ‘Bernd and Hilla Becher’ it does present a social view of anonymity and abstraction.
Closer to the Becher’s aesthetic and mentioned in O’Hagens article are the works of Frank Gohlke, Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, Lewis Baltz, Nicholas Nixon, Andreas Gurtsky and the aforementioned Bechers. These photographers wanted to create a family of motifs, a pattern of experiences which the viewer experiences sequentially as they view a network of photographs of objects which have been divorced from their original purpose and everyday function.
Gurtsky is a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher and has cultivated the aesthetic response of the Anonymous Sculpture. Gurtsky tries to draw the viewer away from the transparent notion of representation by purposefully avoiding context and association.
Gurtsky uses a system of rigorous procedural rules; standardised format and ratio, near identical lighting and a consistent approach to colour, which is a step away from the Becher’s restricted use of black and white photography, as does his use of a higher vantage point which creates a fantasy world, full of human creation but without the human representation.
While Gurtsky could be interpreted as cold and unfeeling, it can be seen that even within the frame he uses the technique of rhythm and repetition to present his view. ‘Rhein II’ is a prime example of this.
Gohike as a contemporary of the Bechers, worked on landscapes where man-made constructions competed with nature. He examined how this competition created a frame through which could be seen the way that man has marked the landscape with his own constructions. Grohike frames this aesthetic so that for the most part the suburban or industrial landscape stretches off into the horizon, leaving little room for nature. This scale creates an imbalance in the viewer and questions the viewer’s perceptions of the items within the frame. ‘Grain Elevator and Lightning Flash, Lamesa, Texas, 1975’ is a prime example of Grohike’s work. Here he uses the monochromatic zone approach and values, which is characteristic of the work of Ansel Adams, to give depth to the scene, but unlike Adams, Grohike focuses on the man-made changes which have created the new landscape.
Like Gurtsky, Grohike for the most part does not represent people within the frame, instead choosing to represent the landscape as a fluid and dynamic relationship with the forces acting upon it, whether they be man-made or natural.
The Guardian. 2018. New Topographics: photographs that find beauty in the banal | Art and design | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/feb/08/new-topographics-photographs-american-landscapes. [Accessed 03 July 2018].
Media Art Net | Ruscha, Ed: Every Building on the Sunset Strip. 2018. Media Art Net | Ruscha, Ed: Every Building on the Sunset Strip. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/sunset-strip/. [Accessed 03 July 2018].
Tate. 2018. ‘The Rhine II’, Andreas Gursky, 1999 | Tate . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/gursky-the-rhine-ii-p78372. [Accessed 03 July 2018].
Andreas Gursky | home. 2018. Andreas Gursky | home. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.andreasgursky.com/en. [Accessed 03 July 2018].
Places Journal. 2018. Frank Gohlke: Thoughts on Landscape. [ONLINE] Available at: https://placesjournal.org/article/frank-gohlke-thoughts-on-landscape/. [Accessed 03 July 2018].
Photography and the Limits of the Document Symposium: video recordings | Tate. 2018. Photography and the Limits of the Document Symposium: video recordings | Tate. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/photography-and-limits-document#open240431. [Accessed 03 July 2018].
YouTube. 2018. Photographer Donovan Wylie on his Outposts series – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQekhfX73zE. [Accessed 03 July 2018].
YouTube. 2018. Photographer Donovan Wylie on the Maze series and his influences – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naoxP-iLvqU. [Accessed 03 July 2018].