Project: Topographies (Exercise 2.3)

This section opens by explaining that the most significant influences on contemporary landscape was an exhibition called New Topographies: Photographs of a man altered landscape. The exhibition was in the USA in 1975.

Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz. Berns and Hilla Becher, Joel Deal, Frank Gohle, Nicholas Nixom, John Schott, Stephen Shore and Henry Wessell.

The exhibition was a major shift away from the idealised landscape that had gone before and a ‘new kind of sublime’ emerged, concentrating on the manmade landscape.

The exhibition didn’t go down very well and awe-inspiring vistas had been replaced by comparatively drab landscape in drab shades of grey. It was even questioned if this style of work should be in an art gallery.

I have seen the work of Bechers’ that is exampled in the course notes – at an OCA exhibition in London. It was early on in my time with OCA so I wasn’t able to comment. I guess I felt the same way that the audience at the aforementioned USA exhibition in 1975. I was impressed with the attention to detail but the only question in my head was, “Why?” It is good to visit this topic now and understand what they were trying to achieve, what the influences might have been.

The course notes point to David Campany’s essay “Almost The Same Thing: Some Thoughts on Collector Photography.” Last accessed 16/03/2015

At this point I began to understand “why”.

“The straighter the image, the more it describes – or transcribes – but the less it articulates on its own. So the closer the photograph comes to artless description, the more dependent it becomes. Visual facts don’t speak very well for themselves.”

The course notes then point us to Donovan Wylie. I am familiar with his work also but not critically so. Last accessed 16/03/2015 Last accessed 16/03/2015

Exercise 2.3

Part A.

Consider the following: Last accessed 16/08/2016


Born in SC. Started taking photographs by 11 years old and decided to be an artist (with camera). Trained in art school as photography as medium (applied commercial photograph of no interest). “Photography is interesting as an art medium when it intersects with aesthetic social questions”. Photography is the only deductive art.

What are camera and I looking at? It was the ordinary. Nobody wanted to talk about the normal at that time. Nobody wanted to face the horror of capitalism destruction.

Work about sheer beauty isn’t his concern and Baltz illustrates artists as example.

Interest is in things that engage issues. No people in photographs because the evidence of people is everywhere. The persons place is as the viewer.

Also Last accessed 16/08/2016

Choose one of the photographer’s mentioned in the Guardian article by O’Hagan and jot down thoughts of the topographical approaches:

I have chosen Lewis Baltz because of the additional link where he explains simply what motivates him. Clearly the end of only merely photographing the beautiful was coming to an end. The exhibition in 1975 brought together photographer’s who had something else to say about the world and how we were using it an/ or abusing it.

Baltz was clear about what his motivations were in his short talk. His photographs are claustrophobic – views of trees and valleys aren’t the everyday reality for many people. It feels to me that he is saying that the driving forces for capitalism has confined the average person to views of walls…. and more walls. Walls with windows and doors that are shut, revealing nothing. Conversely, Robert Adams uses space and repetitive housing to communicate existence rather than ‘living the dream’.

Another set of his images are of piles of rubble and debris churned up from a once pristine landscape to fulfill the whims of early capitalism empire building.

The reality of the rhetoric of pioneering photography (that demonstrated the potential of a glorious landscape to fulfill our dreams), was now realised. The reward is a scarred landscape, uniformity, banal and manmade confines that feed the capital machine.

In 1975 people weren’t ready to face the reality of what the landscape was becoming. The ideal was still a pipe dream and was always going to be.

I still struggle with the work of Hilda and Bernd Becher but the forensic approaches to the landscape lends itself to posing more questions than it answers. I think that Donovan Wylie is possibly of the Baltz school of thinking. He conveys an uncomfortable atmosphere. The eye struggles to find another pleasing reality within the frame but we realise that the reality is all really quite depressing.

I suppose that leads on to truths. What is outside the frame that we can’t see that would alter the context? Perhaps there are stories of hope and happiness eliminated from the frame. Maybe we just want to believe that is the case.

(I am struggling a little bit to appreciate the aesthetics of some of the 1975 photography because I need colour theory injected to lift the depressive elements somewhat).

The forensic and socially observed landscape is growing on me. I’m not sure how to approach it living in the middle of chocolate box Devon but I will endeavor to try and turn my hand to finding a forensic style of realizing the reality of country life.

2 thoughts on “Project: Topographies (Exercise 2.3)

  1. There’s something going around in my head about army bases and their effect on the landscape; Dartmoor and how people live there, including the prison, plus landscape as viewed by those who have second homes there, Probably irrelevant but it was when I started to think about typologies and the connection with topographies.


    • I have really enjoyed psychogeography but I have struggled with the urban forensic stye of topographics. I need to go back and think this through some more I think. You have given me food for thought. Thanks Catherine.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s