12 August 2010

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape


I recently saw this exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

“A turning point in the history of photography, the 1975 exhibition New Topographics signaled a radical shift away from traditional depictions of landscape. Pictures of transcendent natural vistas gave way to unromanticized views of stark industrial landscapes, suburban sprawl, and everyday scenes not usually given a second glance. This restaging of the exhibition includes the work of all 10 photographers from the original show: Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel.”

While images of abandoned buildings and empty urban spaces have become commonplace in contemporary photography, the approach and subject matter were novel at the time of the original 1975 exhibit. The images and ideas behind them seem just as relevant today, as the economic recession empties houses and storefronts across the country. At the same time, in revisiting the exhibit three decades on, the images seem to have acquired a nostalgic air as documents of a vanishing America. More information is available on the museum website.

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