One Subject Through Ten Perspectives

09Nov09
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Robert Adams “Tract House, Westminster, Colorado” 1974, gelatin silver print.

by Caroline Newman

New Topographics: Photography and the Man-Altered Landscape,” currently at LACMA, explores the man-altered landscape through ten fascinating perspectives.  This use of different viewpoints of the photographer underlines the fact that photography is an art form with it’s own characteristics, unlike the often assumed role of photography as documentary. “New Topographics” was first exhibited in 1975 at the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman house.  At the time the predominant view of photography was that it was purely documentary, but the exhibit clearly demonstrated that it is art.   This exhibit helps all of us understand why well-crafted photographs need to be viewed and understood as art.  Rooms are dedicated to the ten different original artists; Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Henry Wessel Jr., and Stephen Shore.

What is most fascinating about “New Topographics” is that all ten photographers are photographing the same subject matter, yet using different techniques.  The viewer is able to see the subject matter through the artist’s own eyes and to better understand photography as art.  Examples of each artist’s unique approach to the same subject matter can best be drawn from comparing the works of Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, and Henry Wessel Jr.  Robert Adams has both landscape and close-up images depicting rural life.  Old motels, trailers and residential homes with bright sun and strong shadows on them are depicted.

Lewis Baltz’s works are displayed in a grid format.  Each image has a minimalist quality to it, making all the photos work cohesively as a group.  Baltz includes images of parking lots, flat buildings, and signs all with strong shadows on them.  Joe Deal is a thought-provoking artist to discover in the middle of the exhibit because his shifted perspective loses the horizon in the photographs.  This turns the landscapes into a puzzle comprised of land mixed with man built constructions.  Henry Wessel Jr. shows a somewhat more glamorous side of the man-altered landscape with his images from Hollywood and Colorado.  Retro-style apartments with palm trees, phone booths, and abandoned looking houses are a few of his subjects.

In addition to the works of the original artists there are works by Timothy O’Sullivan, Walker Evans, Ed Ruscha, Robert Smithson, and Dan Graham.  The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) was commissioned by LACMA to do a video which is installed in the center of the exhibit.  The video examines oil’s prominent role in the evolution of the American landscape.  The restaging of the exhibit at LACMA is a way to reconsider the photographic landscape, and especially the impact man has had on it.  In 1975, “New Topographics” was a groundbreaking assembly of ten outstanding working photographic artists.  Their vision of photography as art is even more interesting today.

New Topographics” is currently on exhibit at LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) until January 3, 2010.

Check out one of the four exciting artist walk-throughs scheduled in conjunction with “New Topographics,” a unique educational opportunity to see the exhibit through the eyes off some of today’s leading artists.

Sunday, November 15: Peter Holzhauer

Sunday, November 22: Shannon Ebner

Sunday, December 6: Kim Stringfellow

Sunday, December 13: Catherine Opie.

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2 Responses to “One Subject Through Ten Perspectives”

  1. 1 Anonymous

    this is an exhibit I will definitely see!

  2. 2 elizabeth

    Loved this article! Very thorough and thoughtful. I will definitely see this exhibit after reading!


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