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Monday, 22 March 2010


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"utterly pedestrian Times Roman typeface"??

That's fighting talk, especially in this context. "Artfully transparent", more like.

I note that date: 1975. Just wait for the chorus of "But I just don't get it" ... That wave went through thirty five years ago, and people are still talking as if all the thoughtful, interesting work that followed was a direct threat to their sanity.

But, I suppose if you think all photography aspires to the condition of National Geographic or Magnum, then it may be.


Thank you for this review, Geoff. It's quite timely for me, as I've looked at that catalog recently and have considered traveling to SFMoMA to see the show this summer.

Great article in today's Gizmodo.com
by Greg du Toit - 'Blood,Sweat and
Photographic Tears'

Thanks for the heads-up - bought from your UK link.

I had a few snatched minutes on London's Picadilly and nipped into Hatchard's where I saw this book on sale.
I have a soft spot for linen covered books and I loved the sober colour and the typeface. I had determined to buy a book (I don't often get the chance to browse like this) whilst some other gaudy (anything is gaudy compared to this) were tempting; the cool, frank photographs won me over.

Thanks Mike but I bought a copy at "Paperchain" in Canberra, three weeks ago! It's a great companion volume to George Tice's Urban Landscapes that I got the week before. Nirvana.

A good review as usual by Geoff, but this book seems the epitome of the curatorial circle-jerk (pardon my french), one curator celebrating another curator's triumph as if the work of the real artists (i.e., the photographers) were merely epiphenomenal and entirely contingent on their serendipitous recognition by The Great Curator. The unnecessarily exact reproduction of publishing-related minutiae is another manifestation of the same -- as if the book designer were the real artist here, not the photographers.

I get it -- curators are important, and so are book publishers / designers. But denizens of the art world sometimes love themselves too much, mistaking the gloss for the substance. To paraphrase our 42nd president, It's the pictures, stupid. And I just want to see those pictures; I don't need to see tiny pictures showing how these pictures were displayed in a book published 35 years ago (no more "Errata Editions" for me, thank you).

Oh, alright. I grant that someone interested in photography history, or art photography as a phenomenon, or collecting photo-related media, could find this book interesting.

In any event, the influence of New Topographics photographers cannot be denied. But is it possible to be overly influential? Can the world absorb one more Emerging Artist-Photographer producing yet another series of ironic, detached landscapes of the man-made world?

"It's the pictures, stupid. And I just want to see those pictures; I don't need to see tiny pictures showing how these pictures were displayed in a book published 35 years ago"

It's clear that the record of the exhibition catalog is just a small part of the book, right? There are plenty of pictures in the book, presented normally, like in any other photo book.


Yuanchung Lee-
An interesting comment. On one level it is indeed all about the pictures, and any externally imposed meaning ("structure" in current art-speak) should take a back seat to what the images have to say for themselves. But—not to go all meta on you—there are billions of pictures out there, and most speak to no one but their creator. A relative handful of photographs reach a wider audience. This particular 1975 exhibition by contrast continues to have influence all out of proportion to the rather modest number of people who saw it at the time. This new catalogue gives readers a chance to decide for themselves whether the attention is justified.

I've seen a lot of exhibits over the years, and from the perspective of an interested amateur, many display a curator's procrustean attempt to cram the most tenuously connected images into an ill-fitting conceptual box. Yet occasionally a curator really hits on something that makes an exhibit a bit more than the sum of its "parts"—i.e. the individual photographs. By common consensus, New Topographics is one of them. You are surely free to disagree.

I attended the opening of the show in Tucson, and Bill Jenkins, Frank Gohlke, and Britt Salveson had a panel discussion to talk about the origins of the show, and to a lesser extent reflect on it 35 years after the fact. Some of the talk was verbatim from the text, and I think also people inclined to this type of photography are not inclined to talk 35 years later about how significant or important they were. But what was cool was hearing the obvious joy they took in doing this. IMHO, the highlight was when an audience member (and I think the lone attendee who was also at the original show) commented that in 1975, Ansel Adams was the Oedipal father of 35 years, fit to be slain. Lo and behold it's 35 years later so (to the panel): "It's 35 years after the fact. Who's going to kill you?" .

Dear Mike,
I came across this site by chance some of it put a smile on my face (check out the mug shots) hope it does the same for you. I got the camera out of it's bag today for the first time in month's another 80 to go for my 100. It's the printing I have trouble with, when i edit my files for printing I end up convincing myself it's a waste of paper and ink. I'm thinking of changing the way of working, instead of saving them up for a print run I'll print 1 or 2 from every session that way I've only got to pick the best of a few. I'ts the sound of the cleaning cycle that grieves me. I live Cornwall England its the bit that hangs off the southwest corner on the map, so if the sun shines again tomorrow I think I'll go see if the beach is still there.
How about filling a memory card instead of shooting a few rolls (an 512meg card 8 meg camera = 64 pictures) that seems a reasonal amount.
thanks very much for TOP it makes my day, keep up the good work much appreciated. Leigh.

Coincidentally, my copy of this book arrived today and to be honest, I was a bit disappointed by the reproductions on my initial pass through it. It will be interesting to see how they compare to the prints when I see the exhibit in Tucson next month.

Anyone have info on when this exhibition will come to Europe. I tried the Eastman House site but could find no further information there. Tried to sign up for their email news but had to give up when it insisted I select a U.S. state despite letting me select a different country.
And what do you know but not all countries have zip codes either.
Paul Mc Cann

So this exhibition is to blame for 35 years of drab, dull and uninspiring "art" photography?

Just saying that some of us prefer beauty over this. And no, ugliness as beauty is still ugly.

From the Center for Creative Photography website:
New Topographics will continue to travel to several national and international exhibition spaces including: the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (July 17 – October 3, 2010); Landesgalerie, Linz, Austria (November 10, 2010 – January 9 2011); Die Photographische Sammlung Stiftung Kultur, Cologne, Germany (January 20 – March 28, 2011); the Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam, the Netherlands (June 25 – September 11, 2011); and Museum of Fine Arts, Bilbao, Spain (October 17, 2011 – January 8, 2012).


I do think it's possible to be too influential. Arguably Tolkien has been, in fantasy (Lord of the Rings is great, but I do think many of the things most obviously influenced by it are NOT). Sometimes, in hindsight, an influence is bad, too.

Just been to the Photographers Gallery in London, which has a fantastic bookshop, and had a look at this and a few other recent books. It will go on my shopping list as it's an important moment and I'd like to read the texts.

I think one of the interesting aspects of this book as a record of a photo-historical moment, however, is not just the subject but that it's at the exact point that Colour is about to take over. The relationship between colour and mono work would be very different now.

To my eyes at least, Stephen Shore's work still feels like Modern photography 35 years on. Consequently, I find Shore's images significantly more appealing than the Mono work of his Peers in the show.

At the same time looking around the bookshop as a whole I had to wonder if there was a faint echo of the bottom of the deadpan barrel being scraped. A lot of books are either titles like 'Church Signs Across America' containing exactly what they say, or books of equally banal imagery with conceptual titles. Neither type generally hitting the mark, as there rarely seems to be that vitality to most of them, once you 'get' the idea you'll not want to look again. maybe it's just that while there are more photo-books and Monographs than ever there really aren't more great photographers.

@Ahem: I have similar position as you but I like and advocate diversity. There is different opinion on the Adam and Weston photos (which I like very much). I would keep different perspective. I think those pictures are better the impossible project photos at least.

See Deborah Bright Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Man ( http://www.deborahbright.com/PDF/Bright-Marlboro.pdf ) and later KELLY DENNIS Landscape and the West: Irony and Critique in New
Topographic Photography ( http://conferences.ncl.ac.uk/unescolandscapes/files/DENNISKelly.pdf ).

Mike... for those photographers who don't normally click on 'design' links - like Design Observer - there's a good review there of the "New Topographics" work, by Brian Rosa, under the heading "Frank Gohlke: Thoughts on Landscape"... http://places.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=12888

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