Friday, July 6, 2007

Echoes of the New Topographics

The "New Topographics" movement emerged in the 1960's as a reaction to the pictorialist, utopian photography of photographers such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. Adams and Weston adamantly depicted the landscape as an entity of unscathed and organic beauty. The photographers of the "New Topographics" movement strove to show the rapidly increasing imprint that man was imparting on the landscape. As suburban development started to spread across the United States with fervor, artists such as Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Stephen Shore, Nicholas Nixon, Joe Deal and Bernd and Hilla Becher, among others; endeavored to objectively show the effects of an increasingly industrial culture. They turned their cameras towards newly built tract houses, industrial parks, expansive highways and commercial strip malls as proof of man's impetuous development. What is so affecting about these photographs is the stark juxtaposition between humanity and its environment. The pinnacle of this movement came to fruition in an exhibition entitled, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape; which premiered at the George Eastman House in 1975.

In the 30 plus years since this exhibition took place, the expansion of residential and industrial development has continued to rapidly sprawl to meet the demands of our global community. Many contemporary photographers have picked up where the "New Topographics" artists left off, weighing the effects of consumerism on the environment and the culture. Nathan Ian Anderson, Brad Moore and Jeff Brouws, to name a few, have all investigated Urban and Suburban spaces throughout the United States. These scenes of transformation certainly conjure up both issues environmental and cultural significance. The over-development of the landscape and the accelerated use of our natural resources are prevalent in these images. However, what is more striking is the overwhelming uniformity of our surroundings. It is becoming harder to discern one place from another. No matter where you seem to go, you see the same corporate facades, or repetitious Suburban developments sprawling through the landscape. When a culture becomes too homogenous it runs the risk of not being able to think for itself. This is an unsettling thought on many levels.

Whether ultimate social change can be attained from photographs of this nature, is hard to know. What is important however, is that work of this class continue to be made. At this point it is unrealistic that we can undue the impact we've made on the landscape, but being cognizant of it is vital.

-Ben Alper

From Top to Bottom:

Joe Deal, Samoa Village, from Pomona Freeway, 1977

Brad Moore, Family Rescue Center, Westminster, California (2006)

Nathan Ian Anderson, Red Hook Park, Brooklyn, 2005

All Images Copyright the Artists