Images of the ‘beautiful’

A 1975 exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape in Rochester, New York, had ten photographers exhibiting ‘work that showed the effect that man has had on the landscape (Creative Arts Today, page 173).

Eight out of ten photographers selected for this show ‘that epitomized a key moment in American landscape photography’ were Americans (Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel, Jr.), the other two were a couple, Bernd and Hilla Becher from Germany. (Wikipedia/New Topographics)

‘The show consisted of 168 rigorously formal, black-and-white prints of streets, warehouses, city centres, industrial sites and suburban houses. Taken collectively, they seemed to posit an aesthetic of the banal.’ (O’Hagan, 2010)

‘Looking back, one can see how these images of the “man-altered landscape” carried a political message and reflected, unconsciously or otherwise, the growing unease about how the natural landscape was being eroded by industrial development and the spread of cities.’ (O’Hagan, 2010)

Lewis Baltz, Park City, image by the ASX Team (2012)


The photograph above is taken from an essay (2012) about that seminal exhibition, consulted online from (The AXS Team, 2012), showing also several images from it.

‘The exhibition’s title was clearly a nod to nineteenth-century topographic photography under the initial exploratory auspices of the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as an acknowledgment of the alteration of that terrain during the century intervening—an acknowledgement missing from mid-century photographs by Ansel Adams … while New Topographic photographs appear to be of western landscapes, trees, deserts, houses, roads, and construction, they are nonetheless about the aesthetic discourse of landscape photography, and about “a man-made wilderness” (Ratliff, 1976, p.86): that is, they are about the American myths of the West, suburban expansion, the American dream, and the exploitation and destruction of natural resources.’ (The AXS Team, 2012)

This is only a short quote from the essay that is an important contribution to the vast field of landscape photography. I made a print-out of it for further study.

On similar issues seen from a British perspective Creative Arts Today mentions Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts’ book Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness (2011). I have no access to the book at the moment but I read a review online from The Guardian to get a general idea of what it is about.




Wikipedia article, New Topographics: (Accessed 24/05/2017)

O’Hagan, S. (2010) ‘New Topographics: photographs that find beauty in the banal’ In 8/02/2010 [online] At: (Accessed 24/05/2017)

The ASX Team (2012) ‘New Topographics: Landscape and the West – Irony and Critique in New Topographic Photography (2005) In: 14/05/2012 [online] At: (Accessed 25/05/2017)

Macfarlane, R. (2011) ‘Edgelands by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts – review’ In: 19/02/2011 [online] At: (Accessed 25/05/2017)


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