The British Landscape Club

New Topographics and the lie of the land

There’s an interesting article in today’s British Journal of Photography on how British landscape photography dropped its “chocolate-box pastoralism” in the 1970s in favour of a new radical vision exposed by the mores of contemporary American photographers like Robert Adams and others in the New Topographics movement - essentially a style of documentary landscape photography.

Eugenie Shinkle, the article’s writer, seems in favour of the New Topographics style and, indeed, the pictures are often powerful and interesting compositions, but his use of the rather judgmental term “chocolate-box pastoralism” is very telling. It seems we cannot properly appreciate a photograph of a striking landscape unless we place a caravan park or a shopping mall in front of it. Anything else runs the risk of being labelled “chocolate-box”. He also seems to regard it as something of a hallmark of the style that most of the photographs could be anywhere at all. The Robert Adams landscape, Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973, could be almost anywhere - I know of an almost identical view from a caravan park in Wales.

I like the edginess of these classic photographs, their documentary style and texture, but surely photographers haven’t given up finding ways of representing the power and sublime beauty of landscape without needing to crop their compositions to include a rusty tin roof or a multi-storey car park.
blog comments powered by Disqus