I Venture Into the “New Topographics Movement”

When people ask me “what kind” of photography I like to do, I have always had trouble defining it in specific terms. Often it’s more about what I don’t do: photos of people or traditional landscapes.

I say I photograph architecture, which includes modern structures as well as old and abandoned structures. I mostly concentrate on the built environment. I will also photograph various “found” artifacts. Could be anything. If I photograph a tree, I usually treat it as an architectural subject. As for landscapes, most of the time I include man-made objects.

A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about my photographic art and he said that the scenes tell him that human beings passed through here. Put another way, I could explain that I document human activity, but without directly photographing that activity. I have pretty much stayed with that ever since.

When I recently discovered the “New Topographics Movement” group on Facebook, I joined it more out of curiosity than anything else. I was aware of the term, which referred to the 1975 exhibit of photographs (“The Man-Altered Landscape”) that were variously described as “mundane” or “boring”. The one thing I found in the images was that they mostly captured the built environment in some way. I used Google to search on the term and read a number of articles that got me beyond evaluating the images purely in visual terms. When I first read about the “Man-Altered Landscape”, I was attracted to the concept and I always sought to photograph the architectural vernacular where ever I went to photograph. I thought that much of what I was trying to do in photography fit into that framework.

Once accepted into the Facebook group, I explored the images that had been posted to the group. The images included all kinds of structures in all kinds of environments, from isolated rural roads to heavily urbanized cityscapes. I came to understand the imagery as presenting a juxtaposition of the built environment over the natural environment; an over-simplification perhaps, but an explanation that I felt I could understand.

Thus begins my new project: to mine my hard drive for images that fit into this aesthetic, including some images I may have overlooked.

This image, at least conceptually, fits into the “New Topographics” framework. The exhibit was famous for showing things like tract housing from the 1960s in the west. This image shows what evolved from the coal mining camps in southern West Virginia.

Along Rt. 52, McDowell County, WV

Along Rt. 52, McDowell County, WV

More images to come.


~ by Rsmith on April 10, 2018.

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