Having seen mention of them a number of times in this unit, and having referred to them in my first assignment, I chose to look in closer detail at Bernd and Hilla Becher.
When it comes to landscape photography, I am far more interested in the dour man-made structures that the Bechers’ captured than the Ansel Adams-type of natural scenery. I was perhaps predisposed to prefer this kind of work, unlike much of the art world at the time,
“What I remember most clearly was that nobody liked it” (1)
as to me, classic landscapes were the “banal” that the topographic work was described as. The Bechers’ work rejects those staid elements of conformity.
There’s a distinct lack of composition that flies in the face of classical landscapes; perhaps to compliment the utility of the structures in their photographs, the Bechers’ shots are all uniform- subject in the center, almost filling the frame. The background and setting aren’t needed.
It is this deliberate focus that leans more towards documentation rather than art for artistic merit. There are elements of humanity, history and functionality/infrastructure- the opposite of what I find in conventional landscapes.
Personally, I find their work interesting because it is so unusual- it eschews the typical aspects of landscape photography for something so seemingly simple and banal. Each individual photograph probably wouldn’t have been enough to carry the genre (there’s a deliberate emptiness and simplicity to the singular shots) which makes the presentation so important. Creating ‘sets’ of four-to-nine extremely similar scenes accentuates both the ‘same-ness’ of these industrial structures but also the unique and small differences between them.
(1) Sean O’Hagan. (2010). New Topographics: photographs that find beauty in the banal. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/feb/08/new-topographics-photographs-american-landscapes. Last accessed 17th July 2016.