My favourite photographers - The New Topographics



When I discuss my favourite photographers with people, they can often accept the merits of the pictures even if they don't particularly like the content. See previous posts on Robert Mapplethorpe and Bob Carlos Clarke. My sister-in-law had a selection of Mapplethorpe flower prints on her wall, and yes she did know what else he took pictures of. However the New Topographics, a group of photographers who held an exhibition in the 1970's to show "Man-altered landscapes" have always been a hard sell.

Reactions are usually, "Mmmmm" "You like these do you?" "Aren't they a bit dull?" And to be honest when I was introduced to them by a friend, my reaction wasn't much different to that. However over time and with more research I warmed to them, and they have influenced the way I shoot pictures and what I shoot. 

I guess most people who read this blog assume that I spend my time shooting pretty thatched cottages, scenic views and the rest of my "Beautiful Britain" portfolio. However, my "secret" photographic life, and incidentally one that probably earns me just as much money as the pretty stuff, is taken up with photographing housing estates, factories, modern industrial estates, garages, building sites, farm silos and all the associated functional architecture of the modern world. I rarely post those images, as I'm not sure that anybody would want to look at them, but to me the documentation of the modern world, and how it interacts with the landscape and the environment is just as important as all the "scenic" stuff I shoot. I have a fantastic collection of pylon pictures for example, and telephone posts and post boxes and road markings and junctions and building sites and etc. etc. etc. See you're thinking of something else you should be doing already. 

I don't imagine that many people will be interested in this stuff, particularly since I stick to the (somewhat loose) philosophy of the New Tops., which is to photograph these environments in a non-fussy, non-arty, straightforward way. The movement was U.S. based but the UK is a very fertile environment for Man-altered landscapes, since very little of the country hasn't been altered by man. We have no deserts, no vast tracts of uninhabited wilderness, and to some extent the whole country has been settled, farmed or used in some way, including the mountain areas and the remote offshore islands. 

Art photography has never really recovered from the New Topographics and their influence is everywhere. It can be seen in the work of Andreas Gursky, the man who holds the record for the highest-selling photograph, and in the work of many other modern "fine-art" photographers. I make no claims to be anything of the sort, and my attempts at this kind of photography are pretty much based on either personal satisfaction and/or the notion I can actually make money out of it. However just like in a previous post I mentioned having a "Ray Moore" moment, I do often think to myself when I'm out shooting that I've just had a "New Topographic" moment (and they can often happen at the same time), and even though I know my pictures will never end up on the walls of an exhibition, in a book, or even on this blog, it does give me a moment of quiet satisfaction. 


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