The New Topographies:Photographs of A Man-Altered Landscape

The 1975 Exhibition  The New Topographies: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape , brought together 10 photographers who were re-inventing the new documentary style of photography.

Whilst Social Landscape photographers of the 50s & 60s like Lee Friedlander,Diane Arbus and Gary Winogrand recorded social change, others turned to the actual landscape, documenting the changing face of an American idealistic landscape becoming altered by Industrialisation and suburban development.

The curator of the exhibition William Jenkins found a common thread between the chosen photographers (who already each had a strong individual style). American photographer Robert Adams had documented the changing face of the environment due to mans destructive nature in ‘Outdoor Theatre’ Colorado Springs 1971, where he took images of the many outdoor drive-ins having an impact on the landscape. This body of work was included in the 1975 exhibition  along with 10 images from other photographers: Lewis Baltz, Franke Golke, Joe Deal, Stephen Shore, Henry Wessel, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott and Bernd & Hiller Becher.

These image makers were doing something different than for example Ansel Adams who photographed the grandeur and beauty of the American landscape.

The exhibition at the George Eastman House in Rochester NY, was not well received as visitors found the images  ‘banal’ ‘mundane’and ‘boring’.  However, this collection became important later on as an acceptance of the banal as legitimate subject matter and influential to a host of photographers such as Andreas Gursky and Paul Graham amongst others.

The New Documentary Tradition in Photography-Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sean O’Hagan- The Guardian


My thoughts:  I think in taking images ‘as they appear’ there is a certain challenge or confrontation intended between the photographer and the viewer. The image creator almost wants the viewer to not understand and then debate can happen. ie: ‘If you don’t like what you see then why are you doing this to our environment?’

A few years ago I was commissioned to take pictures at a Xmas fayre for a newspaper. I came across a long table of dead geese side by side with their necks all hanging down. It was a good picture, but I knew I was photographing it to challenge the picture editor to use it. Why wouldn’t he? Everyone eats goose at Xmas don’t they? As a vegan I was probably hoping for a little debate on the matter, it was my personal protest…………The photo wasn’t used!




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