It has been 39 years since the origins of the the New Topographic Movement began in New York after William Jenkins the curator of an American landscape show at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York coined the term. The original show had over 150 photographs from a group of photographers that conformed rigorously to a formal concept of street, architecture, and urban landscapes in black and white that continue to find the beauty in the seemingly ordinary.
Consisting of work by photographers Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Stephen Shore. Initially the exhibition was not successful, Frank Gohlke reflected in a recent article in the LA Times,
“What I remember most clearly was that nobody liked it, I think it wouldn’t be too strong to say that it was a vigorously hated show.”
I feel this may have been a result of peoples inability to look beyond what they see, appreciate the beauty in something between the lines and more everyday. As opposed to original landscape photography that focused on the idealised aesthetic landscape this group of photographers looked instead and the suburban landscape, its evolution and elements that form peoples lives. In comparison to the earlier traditions in landscape photography, namely Ansel Adams and Edward Weston who captured the natural beauty and essence of the landscape.
The continued influence of this exhibition and subsequent ones has continued to impress on the artistic community the styles and process that it originated from, the works of Andreas Gursky and Paul Graham are further proof to this, as in Graham’s work on the A1 goes to show, the banal and everyday became interesting and legitimate photographic subject, especially when coupled with a fascinating premise as was Graham’s work.
A quote that I read in an article about the movement on The Guardian website (1) that made me consider the importance of the movement was this,
“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.”
An early visitor to the exhibition, who saw his own truck in one of Adams images manages to explain and comprehend the effect of the show in one sentence, it is this ability to see the fascination and beauty in the everyday life and for those who can capture it in this manner to record the way things are that, for me is a brilliant style and movement in photography, whose images are not only beautiful but thought provoking.
This first image of Robert Adam’s shows the side of a detached property and a caravanette, the formal composition as mentioned above is obvious to see, the use of verticals and horizontals in the composition give the structure more strength that it appears to have in this image. The close crop in this frame focuses the viewer on the building and caravan, its apparent lack of interest is, for those who look at the make up of an image is very shallow, the depth created by the strong shadow not only creates a more dynamic photograph but the tonal range of the image is very pleasing, the overall exposure gives a very bright image while the shadow is a strong element that adds both interest and focus to the photograph.
This next image, taken my Lewis Baltz focuses closer on a section of wall which is his style more so than the other photographers of the group. The full frame effect he uses gives an sense of mystery and anonymity to the building, its place and surroundings, an element that is used more often by the other photographers. His maintained use of verticals and horizontals, same as Adam’s above is fundamental to the formal composition, and attraction to the images while the controlled tonal range is helped by the architecture but the detail maintained in the highlights and shadows really add to the impact of the formal features.
This third image taken by myself in a New Topographic style was taken at Lepe Beach, I have photographed only have the building as opposed to the previous two examples showing the whole building or a close up section. I have done this because of the line elements in both he trees behind and the railings and benches, I thought this would add an added bit of interest to the lines and mundane subject as is typical with the movement, I was fortunate to include the person in the center of the frame, I feel this added bit of interest isn’t noticed straight away which maintains the viewers interest longer while still fitting within the formal composition.