New Topographics

Sunday, March 19th 2023

New Topographics is a photography movement that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States. It was a response to the pictorialism and documentary photography that dominated the medium at the time. New Topographics photographers rejected the idea of the photograph as an artistic object, instead focusing on the banal, everyday landscapes of modern America.

The movement was first recognized in a landmark exhibition titled "New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape" at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York in 1975. The exhibition featured the work of ten photographers: Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel, Jr.

The photographers of the New Topographics movement sought to document the landscapes of the American West in a way that emphasized their industrial and commercial character. They were influenced by the writings of cultural geographers such as J.B. Jackson, who argued that the American landscape was a product of human intervention and technological progress. They also drew on the tradition of the Bechers' typologies, which focused on the repetition of industrial forms and structures.

The New Topographics photographers rejected the romanticism of earlier landscape photography and instead sought to create a new visual language for the modern landscape. They used large-format cameras to capture highly detailed, sharply focused images of man-made structures such as gas stations, highways, and suburban housing developments. They often worked in series, creating typologies of similar structures and forms.

One of the most important photographers of the New Topographics movement was Robert Adams, whose photographs of the American West explored the impact of human development on the natural environment. Lewis Baltz was another key figure, known for his stark, minimalist images of industrial landscapes. Other notable photographers associated with the movement include Stephen Shore, who documented the vernacular architecture of the American West, and Bernd and Hilla Becher, who created typologies of industrial structures such as water towers and gas tanks.

The influence of the New Topographics movement can be seen in the work of many contemporary photographers who continue to explore the themes of human intervention in the landscape and the impact of technology on the natural environment.