New Topographics increasingly means color

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Don Heisz

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It doesn't seem like a movement to me at all. It could just as easily have been called "new landscape" - but would have been boring. I consider it as "new" topographics as opposed to the "old" or natural topographics. It's "new" because it's been done by humans within the last 10000 years - as opposed to the old having been done naturally over the past billions of years. 50 years won't make it any less new.

The more orthographic, the more uncluttered, the more a photo would fit the category. If your photo of a church is more analytic than aesthetic, you should consider it appropriate for this category.

With Bechers' photos, for instance, you feel that if they could have made of photograph of the structural elements alone, they would have been happiest.
 

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Interesting that no one has tried to define the content and style of the New Topographics. Among other things, this included a lack of perceived artifice or drama, the use of basic, unadorned camera angles and aesthetic devices. This was made explicit by Lewis Baltz, who I consider the chief theoretician of the movement.
 

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Ah, Logan... Thanks for correcting my error. Not Szarkowski then. But even before that Jenkin's Eastman event, certain of these individuals were being displayed together here and there without the label. I saw a fair amount of it, at least here in the West. Like all art trends, they might have influenced one another to a degree, but didn't seem to consciously be any kind of movement; arrived from different directions esthetically, even different parts of the country.
 

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Arthur, I think Baltz was as pretentious as it gets - deadpan aimed at not just the subject, but at getting a foot in the door with the curator circle. Others might strongly disagree. Thank goodness, the diecast manifesto ideologues don't necessarily determine what others do. That only helps the label-makers.
 

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Interesting that no one has tried to define the content and style of the New Topographics. Among other things, this included a lack of perceived artifice or drama, the use of basic, unadorned camera angles and aesthetic devices. This was made explicit by Lewis Baltz, who I consider the chief theoretician of the movement.

With respect to the "basic, unadorned camera angles" part, I'm wondering where in that statement the use of camera movements to restore converging verticals fits.
That is one of the things that I first noticed with Stephen Shore's work - the combination of initially apparent simplicity with more subtly apparent technique.
 

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Unfortunately many great artists are pretentious, and I do think Baltz was a great artist. Still, I don't really think he was "pretentious," just brilliant.
 

Arthurwg

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With respect to the "basic, unadorned camera angles" part, I'm wondering where in that statement the use of camera movements to restore converging verticals fits.
That is one of the things that I first noticed with Stephen Shore's work - the combination of initially apparent simplicity with more subtly apparent technique.

I had a professor tell me that "great art conceals art." Maybe that applies here.
 

DREW WILEY

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Thankfully, Shore has stated both his psychological approach at the time, which he often likened to fly fishing, and a bit of his practical approach, which involved setting up the 8x10 pretty much ready to go and hoping it could be quickly aimed at something interesting. I'm sure it didn't always work out, or necessarily transpire that spontaneously all the time, but for him it seemed to get the job done. With the exception of Meyerowitz I wouldn't call any of them good color printers, or even necessarily good view camera operators. Perhaps it was some of the sheer looseness which in fact comprised an effective counterpoise to the highly polished style of outdoor color photographers like Eliot Porter before. But sometimes just some Baltz-ish literal garbage in an otherwise scenic frame allowed someone to squeak in and get some attention. Once these things get serious exhibit attention, all kinds of people want a piece of the action, and they do sadly turn into self-conscious movements with attendant stuffy labels.
 
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Drew, I may be one of the few here who has seen Eliott Porter's E2 (not just E3) chromes... my client shared them with me, hoping I could duplicate/color-correct them for magazine publication...they had degraded badly over the years. (color correcting was the kind of thing for which the client retained me).

A decade earlier, in a Haight Ashbury Episcopal coffee house, I had seen Porter's fabulous slide-show which backed up the then-pending book.

The crowd was awed by that slide show, but that wasn't enough to save Glen Canyon.

My old copy of the book remains far better than those old 4X5 transparencies had become. I've seen the same images in old dye transfer prints and I'm certain one of San Francisco's 2 or 3 top labs could have printed better C-prints from internegs at the time...Kodak's products had become wonderful and the surviving dye-transfer lab was reduced mostly to printing for printed-circuits. There was a rumor that Porter and partners were going to set up a dye-transfer lab in Mexico.

The book continues to be beautiful and moving.


The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado

 
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Unfortunately many great artists are pretentious, and I do think Baltz was a great artist. Still, I don't really think he was "pretentious," just brilliant.

Arthur, opinionating by perfessers is one of the reasons people with artistic aspirations might want to avoid too much college. Me, I had a 5 (!) unit marathon course at University of CA in Berkeley, learned a lot about how/what/perception/art history and the perfesser never uttered the word "great." Later I audited Jay Baldwin, founder of Whole Earth Catalog and instructor at San Francisco State's engineering-design dept where we studied motorcycle chassis and how-to-drop-eggs-without-breaking. I learned a little welding, too. Then moved to Mendocino where I re-learned darkroom with a Minor White student. Again, "great" wasn't in the vocabulary.
 

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I think California's oldest surviving microbrewery was Anchor Steam Beer, fyi... And that had a lot to do with Ken Kesey...who wrote about Vaughn's neighborhood.
Off-topic but Anchor Steam was unionized a few years ago and are now joined up with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 6. One of the lead organizers for the unionization campaign had volunteered in the YPG during the Syrian Civil War and later became a podcaster.
 

Arthurwg

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Arthur, opinionating by perfessers is one of the reasons people with artistic aspirations might want to avoid too much college. Me, I had a 5 (!) unit marathon course at University of CA in Berkeley, learned a lot about how/what/perception/art history and the perfesser never uttered the word "great." Later I audited Jay Baldwin, founder of Whole Earth Catalog and instructor at San Francisco State's engineering-design dept where we studied motorcycle chassis and how-to-drop-eggs-without-breaking. I learned a little welding, too. Then moved to Mendocino where I re-learned darkroom with a Minor White student. Again, "great" wasn't in the vocabulary.

Funny that you would fixate on the word "great." How about "excellent", "important," or "seminal"? Or how about "influential"? There really are lots of words that could be applied, and I think they all can be valid. But you've mentioned Minor White on a few occasions. Some people thought he qualifies for some of these accolades. Not me.
 

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Both are right -- only those who think they are great are pretentious...artists or otherwise.

Then there are those pretentious assholes who are actually great, who ruin everything. Thomas Joshua Cooper comes to mind...

In fact, that is about what I think when I listen (again) to one of his video interviews..."God dammit, Thomas, stop talking and making so much bloody sense, you pretentious asshole!"

Love the guy...
 
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DREW WILEY

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jtk - I was told that the Glen Canyon book was based on separations directly from the original chromes by old-style print shop craftsmen of the highest order. You just can't get that kind of color quality in a book anymore; but the lacquer on the pages of my copy, and perhaps all of them, has yellowed quite a bit. A much later book, Intimate Landscapes, was made by copying the dye transfer prints instead. Jim Bones, his key assistant, has made some interesting web videos in recent years, including a visit back to his New Mexico darkroom, which was surprisingly primitive. But a big commercial lab in NYC did most of the collector sets. It must have been really interesting seeing a number of the original chromes. Now the ghost of Glen Canyon is getting its revenge on the reckless water waste of the West by gradually starving the river and lake of its water.
 

awty

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It doesn't seem like a movement to me at all. It could just as easily have been called "new landscape" - but would have been boring. I consider it as "new" topographics as opposed to the "old" or natural topographics. It's "new" because it's been done by humans within the last 10000 years - as opposed to the old having been done naturally over the past billions of years. 50 years won't make it any less new.

The more orthographic, the more uncluttered, the more a photo would fit the category. If your photo of a church is more analytic than aesthetic, you should consider it appropriate for this category.

With Bechers' photos, for instance, you feel that if they could have made of photograph of the structural elements alone, they would have been happiest.

Im struck by the atmosphere of slight melancholy emptiness. Not making a statement but is by default.
Some of the compositional structure reminds me of Jeffrey Smart the painter.
 

Don Heisz

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Im struck by the atmosphere of slight melancholy emptiness. Not making a statement but is by default.

I can see that but think that's a result of grouping such images together. Seeing one photo of a building with an empty parking lot, you're not going to think much. But when grouped together with lots of other images of similar, almost indifferent, images, you start to get a bit of a feeling of abandonment - or maybe a feeling of the post-apocalyptic. But the connection between the images is imposed.

Some of the compositional structure reminds me of Jeffrey Smart the painter.

I had to look him up. It didn't take long to see what you were talking about.
 
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jtk - I was told that the Glen Canyon book was based on separations directly from the original chromes by old-style print shop craftsmen of the highest order. You just can't get that kind of color quality in a book anymore; but the lacquer on the pages of my copy, and perhaps all of them, has yellowed quite a bit. A much later book, Intimate Landscapes, was made by copying the dye transfer prints instead. Jim Bones, his key assistant, has made some interesting web videos in recent years, including a visit back to his New Mexico darkroom, which was surprisingly primitive. But a big commercial lab in NYC did most of the collector sets. It must have been really interesting seeing a number of the original chromes. Now the ghost of Glen Canyon is getting its revenge on the reckless water waste of the West by gradually starving the river and lake of its water.

 
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Drew, my copy has yellowed too, but I'd prefer otherwise. I do think todays scanning/litho science is a blessing, given that "archival" original prints, dye transfer or whatever, will be as doomed as "archival" film, while scanner files may be eternal. Then again, is "eternity" more than inconsequential?

The only dye transfer lab I've ever patronized was indeed primative. That was never a high-tech kind of thing but they didn't realize it at the time.

Right, The Ghost of Glen Canyon does lurk in that book. In fact it's haunting us again recently, as we type.
 

DREW WILEY

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Bathtub rings in low reservoirs can indeed be photographically interesting, and I'm sure the look of mud-lined misery of Lake Powell and Lake Mead would attract those ole "New Topo" color practitioners just like the dying Salton Sea did. But, having backpacked a few still pristine canyons, I'd rather that the atrocity to Glen Canyon never transpired. Yeah, the dam did bring something - more damn development where there was never enough water to go around to begin with. I'm an opportunistic photographer myself, so don't wiggles my toes in the ethical and social connotations when it comes to my pictures per se. But that doesn't prevent me from having strong personal opinions. Once someone shatters the Hope Diamond, it's never going to be the same again. And now massive ecosystems are dramatically failing before our very eyes. Nature's payback, and it's mostly revenge.
 

Don Heisz

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archival" original prints, dye transfer or whatever, will be as doomed as "archival" film, while scanner files may be eternal

While there is always a chance you'll find an interesting but unknown original print or forgotten book, there is practically zero possibility you will find an unknown scan, however eternal it may be. There will be no shoe boxes of scans in future antique stores the way there are currently shoeboxes of family portraits and cartes de visite.
 
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DREW WILEY

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Only Timothy Leary, and his own ashes launched into space, really knows what exists in Cyberspace. Important libraries have already regretted forfeiting microfiche to digital storage. It would seem to be the least permanent method. Yeah, maybe a future archaeologist will dig up a dump of ancient CD discs someday, and assume they were some kind of flashy bodily ornament. They'll get displayed in some museum collection beside selfie sticks, which will be assumed to have been winter solstice markers stuck in the ground.

How well has tape media fared? - and it's just a few decades obsolete. Even CD's are just about to become closeout discounted to skeet shooters. An old box of antique prints in Grandma's attic might at least garner a bit of loving attention. But a box of discs is pretty much doomed unless the outside of the box is labeled, Secret Swiss Bank Accounts.
 
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Only Timothy Leary, and his own ashes launched into space, really knows what exists in Cyberspace. Important libraries have already regretted forfeiting microfiche to digital storage. It would seem to be the least permanent method. Yeah, maybe a future archaeologist will dig up a dump of ancient CD discs someday, and assume they were some kind of flashy bodily ornament. They'll get displayed in some museum collection beside selfie sticks, which will be assumed to have been winter solstice markers stuck in the ground.

How well has tape media fared? - and it's just a few decades obsolete. Even CD's are just about to become closeout discounted to skeet shooters. An old box of antique prints in Grandma's attic might at least garner a bit of loving attention. But a box of discs is pretty much doomed unless the outside of the box is labeled, Secret Swiss Bank Accounts.

Drew, you may have noticed that "digital storage media" is, like wax recordings and LPs and CDs an antique concept. Even Tim Leary knew that was happening which is why he put his life on a website on his way to oblivion.
 

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The painter that comes to my mind is Robert Bechtle.

Bechtle works were of the same generation or after the New toppo, not sure how the influences run. Rush was earlier. Im not American so have no emotional attachment to Americana, so I see things differently.
 
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