Thirty-five years ago, William Jenkins curated an American landscape photography show called ‘Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape’. It was then that he also coined the term ‘New Topographics’; a collective group of photographers with a dedication passion for representing the aesthetic of the banal. Although this movement is now widely accepted and mostly respected, at the time many people “vigorously hated [the] show.” Robert Adams, Bernd & Hilla Becha, Lewis Baltz and many others featured in the exhibition, which consisted mainly of “beautifully printed images of [the] mundane but oddly fascinating [suburbanised world around them].” In a way, it was a reaction and rebellion to the more traditional works produced by the likes of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.
I can see why, for some people, this style of photography was rejected and widely disliked. The pretentious nature and mundane style was not attractive to many. Maybe people were actively seeking something with more substance; something that was obviously beautiful and interesting. Instead, they were presented with stark, mostly black and white images of trailer parks, cooling towers and the back of an office block. People just didn’t get it.
However, in retrospect, what these photographers were attempting, and in my opinion, greatly succeeded in was to elevate the banal into something beautiful; they transcended the everyday. Their plight encouraged many other photographers, such as Andreas Gursky, Candida Hofer and myself included. The sheer beauty exists in the fact the “at first [the work is] really stark nothing, but then you really look at them and it’s just the way things are. This is interesting, it really is.”