Exercise 2.3: Typologies

Notes on O’Hagan (1):

  • 1975 exhibition “Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” – coined the term “New Topographics” for straight images of urban streets and buildings
  • they seemed to posit an aesthetic of the banal” – the exhibition was not well received
  • Their stark, beautifully printed images of this mundane but oddly fascinating topography was both a reflection of the increasingly suburbanised world around them, and a reaction to the tyranny of idealised landscape photography that elevated the natural and the elemental
  • Shore was the only photographer to shoot in colour
  • reflected a growing unease about how the natural landscape was being eroded
  • influence of this movement can be seen in more contemporary work by Gursky, Graham and Hofer, and Donovan Wylie’s “The Maze”.


for me a work of art is something that’s interesting to think about rather than something that’s interesting to look at” Lewis Baltz (2)


I last looked at typologies in relation to portraiture as part of I&P – here it has at first glance a different function, in presenting us with repetition in the landscape. Yet it is really about repetition of human endeavour, which in turn is about conformity, control, and shared experiences. It is still a form of portrait, but a portrait of a society rather than of individuals.

When I have viewed the works of the Bechers, or when I viewed Baltz’s work on the video, what always strikes me first isn’t the images at all, but the accumulation of frames on a wall. The repetition is created before I even see the content, and it immediately downplays the significance of what is contained within the frames. They become a collection, something more scientific and less artistic, by virtue of gathering them together. Yet where the subject matter is very banal as with Baltz’s work in particular, a single image on a wall would not hold any interest, but gathering together the images forces us to see what we do not normally see, to recognise the significance of these elements of architecture. Typologies identify difference but also similarity, and in much of the new topographics images it is similarity that is key.

I found Wylie’s “The Maze” to be the most striking work. At first I thought this was because the largely American urban landscape feels alien to me, a site of movies rather than real life, but this makes no sense as I am no more familiar with Northern Irish prisons! I think it was the almost hypnotic effect of the typological approach which really gripped me, the images are almost like a stop-motion video, taking us on a journey through a landscape so bleak it is almost unreal. To take Baltz’s quote above, this isn’t a series of interesting pictures, it forces us to consider conditions for prisoners and weigh those against the crimes committed – it is a meditation on punishment.

Wylie’s “Outposts” series provided me with an interesting parallel with my own work for assignment one. In some ways outposts are like viewpoints – an elevated position from which to survey the land around – but the context is significantly different. Where a viewpoint is intended to allow the viewer to appreciate the “landscape”, an outpost is placed to monitor what is in front and to protect what lies behind. It is far more functional, and yet in these images it present a similar outlook; I cannot help but see the “landscape” in the first instance, albeit an appreciation of the significance of these locations follows later.

On the whole I have never considered approaching landscape from a typological perspective, but this is exactly what I did in my final assignment for I&P, and also for my first landscape assignment. Creating a series of very similar images to cumulatively reflect on the way we construct landscapes from our imagination rather than what is in front of us can easily be characterised as typological.




(1) https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/feb/08/new-topographics-photographs-american-landscapes (accessed 11th July 2017)

(2) http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/tateshots-lewis-baltz (accessed 11th July 2017)

Featured image: View. FOB Ma sum Ghar. Kandahar Province. Afghanistan, 2011.
Donovan Wylie—Magnum 


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