[3Jan22] This page has been languishing for a year or so. It has been energised by an LPE research prompt. Unless otherwise indicated, the text below is from 2020 when I was speculating on the book's contents before it arrived,
Typologies: nine contemporary photographers - Marc Freidus, James Lingwood, Rod
Slemmons, Newport Harbor Art Museum, 1991
It was selling for £30 when I looked yesterday (it's only an exhibition catalogue) and I was going to add it to my Virus Deficit Library List and speculate here about the contents. I found one for £11 this morning, but I'll speculate anyway. The book arrived on 3rd December.
I had not encountered the term Typologies before I read it in I&P, but when the Bechers were mentioned it was an obvious characterisation and applies to many photographers, particularly in the natural tendency to group together similar, themed pieces when planning or preparing an exhibit or a book - it could be argued that (with the exception of monographs intended to capture a life's work) often the non-typological is the exception these days: I thought of Friedlander's shadows and reflections and Ed Ruscha's garages and consecutive building assemblages. Let's look at who's in the book.
The publisher's inscription is,
Typologies features the work of nine contemporary artist/photographers. Influenced by issues of structuralism rather than appropriation or fabrication, each artist has focused almost scientifically on recording a very specific genre or type."--the publisher. Includes work by Bernd and Hilla Becher, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, Ed Ruscha, Judy Fiskin, Roger Mertin, Lynne Cohen, and Candida Höfer.
Typologies: nine contemporary photographers
[3Jan22] The book's first article by Marc Freidus describes its contents as follows,
A typology, simply put, is a collection of members of a common class or type. It could be a grouping of physiognomic types, vernacular buildings, or species of monkeys. A typology is assembled by observation, collection, naming and grouping. These actions allow the members of the class to be compared, usually in search of broader patterns. These patterns may reveal biological constants if the sub1ects are living things, or social truths if the subjects are human creations…
The artists in this show span several generations. The art of Edward Ruscha and the Bechers developed in the 1960s. The other North American artists - Lynne Cohen, Judy Fiskin, and Roger Mertin - emerged during the seventies. And the work of Bernd Becher's students - Candida Hofer, Thomas Ruff, and Thomas Struth - has come to prominence in the past decade. The emergence of these latter photographers has brought straight photography to the center of discourse about contemporary art, creating a climate conducive to a reevaluation of the North American photographers in this show. Previously, each has won recognition as a highly individualistic photographer, perhaps operating at the fringes of the mainstream…
The context of Typologies is considerably more postmodern than New Topographies, although the photographs were made at varying points over the last thirty years. Postmodernism in photography has been defined by authorial absence, institutional or representational critique, seriality, simulation, and appropriation. It has rarely been connected with documentation, except of a left-oriented activist type. The artists in Typologies are certainly not appropriators and do not display a great deal of interest in the use of photography by the mass media. But their work must be seen in the context of postmodernism to understand the self-consciousness with which these artists have arrived at their seemingly old-fashioned methods. The adoption of seriality, a passive frame, and a comparative method of presentation now seems an effective strategy to deal with the limited truth-value of the photograph. Not only is modernism's autonomy repudiated, but a thoroughly critical role for art is proposed, one in which the viewer must play an active role.
Freidus in Freidus, Lingwood & Slemmons, 1991, pp.10-11
[3Jan] The Bechers in Typologies are Blast Furnace Heads, 1988; Winding Towers (B), 1982-3; Winding Towers , 1983; Water Towers, 1980; 9 Brick Houses, Ruhr District, Germany, 1989; Factories (Gables), 1987
The reproductions in the book are remarkably good, but regrettably too large to fit comfortably on my scanner. I have therefore snapped a few of each with my 'phone - there is a case for making a film of the book, like Photo Book Guy but for now there are a couple of boxes (Boxes F and H) amongst the text.
One more thing - the Bechers count as two of the nine. That's entirely reasonable, but did confuse me for a while.
I could not recall Lynne Cohen, but Terry Barrett cites her "complex institutional interiors" as exemplars of his Descriptive category is earlier editions of his Criticising Photographs.
[3Jan] Cohen's images in Typologies are black and white commercial interiors, all devoid of people (figs. F4, a police shooting practice range and F5 one of several "observation rooms"). The book's first essay refers to Cohen's "neo surreal interiors framed in Formica" p.10. These two subjects bring with them a sense of alienation and unease that is emphasised by the depiction of unused furniture and often the corners of rooms.
For me, looking at small images somehow recreates the experience of looking through a viewfinder. When you are looking through a viewfinder of a thirty-five millimetre camera the scale disappears; you don’t know the size of the object you are looking at. It’s like receiving an image directly into your brain.
[3Jan] Fiskin has published a whole book of these images, printed small, individually centred on a white page, Some Aesthetic Decisions (2011), here figs. H5 and H6 depict detached buildings and Typologies includes an installation shot from 1982 (fig. H7). The text states that Fiskin's "subjects, which include vernacular architecture, desert flora, museum displays of furniture, and flower arrangements, appear isolated, detached from space. We apprehend them as things, not as places. Fiskin collects these objects in series, such as Dingbat, Military Architecture, Stucco, Desert Photographs, and Portraits of Furniture. These series function as typological frames" (p.21) and goes on to describe her methodology as working from a predetermined title, but deriving from C19th Japanese print series rather than, as might be first thought, from Ed Ruscha.
They are quite distinctive to look at, but I'm torn between admiring Fiskin's determination to maintain a format and frustration with the lack of apparent detail: it is, perhaps, result of old eyes.
Box E Flipper, 1973-8
image from Art Basel
In æsthetic contrast to Fiskin, Höfer began with a typological approach (pinball machines in Flipper, 1973) but presented as a collage of 47 B&W prints.
Her subject matter has diversified and includes migrant workers, museums and zoos.
[3Jan] The Höfer entries in Typologies (figs. F6 and F7) are colour images of public building interiors, like Cohen's, unpeopled. The text states that " [in] the early eighties Hofer concentrated on spas, restaurants, and other publicly accessible places of recreation. Hofer's subject was clearly not architecture, but architecturally enclosed space as an arena for public action. The repetition of elements within a picture-lounges, desks, chairs-emphasizes the ordered, circumscribed nature of the activities for which these interiors were designed… In the last few years, Hofer's attention has shifted away from recreational spaces toward sites devoted to knowledge and cul
ture, including universities, libraries, and especially museums" (pp 20-21).
I regard the images as rather mundane and perhaps that is the idea, to convey anomie, but they do not engage me.
Two of Mertin's typographies were:
portraits of citizens in period costume, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Rochester NY (where he taught);
That said, none of the images shown on the gallery site from which these details were taken (Joseph Bellows) are from those series. let's wait for the book.
[3Jan] I enjoyed the Mertin image that I found for the 2020 version of this page (fig. G1). Typologies shows two series (figs. H1 and H2) firstly six similar black and white images of single trees, four part of what might be an orchard and two more individual. The text speaks of choice of "a variety of motifs through which to explore the gentle interface of man and nature … often focus[sing] on the ubiquitous and ordinary aspects of the natural within a suburban environment. The tone is always nonjudgmental and highlights man's subtle acts of creativity." I would need more context to engage with them. The second series Die Tannenbaumserie, in colour, is far more overtly purposeful, depicting, with wit, interior Christmas tree displays.
We first met Ruff in EyV in an exercise comparing two reviews of his Jpegs series. I met his work again at the V&A's inaugural exhibition in its new photography space where he reworked some 1850s images by Linnaeus Tripe. I found the Jpegs exercise quite fun, but the purpose of the Tripe series was entirely lost on me. My current view is that Ruff has some passingly interesting notions but that his renown is difficult to justify. It may be interesting to see how his work comes over in the Typologies book.
[3Jan] The Ruff offerings are from his 1985 Portraits series, including the quadriptych fig. H8. Ruff, a student of the Bechers, along with Höfer, Struth and, of course, Gursky, was an early adopter of the "big is better" school of photo-gallerisation. Grundberg advocates for Ruff,
Thomas Ruff's larger-than-life portraits of his fellow art-school friends were the first to get my attention. Seemingly simple-head-and-shoulders, passport-style frontal images that reflect the direct gazes of their subjects. The portraits are incredibly complex from the viewer's point of view. There are no smiles or facial ties or backgrounds to distract from the confrontation of one person looking back at you, unblinking, limned in precise detail, and much larger than you are. They draw you in when you enter their space, and despite being strangers they invite you to stare.
Grundberg, 2021, p.254
In The Genius of Photography, Gerry Badger describes Ruscha's (pronounced "roo-SHAY") 1960s series on garages and its publication as Twentysix Gasoline Stations as,
… apparently artless photographs … in a roughly produced paperback, these 'bad' photographs revolutionized both the art of photography and the photographic book.
[It] … inaugurated the genre of the 'artist's book', a form which has become extremely important and widespread mode of production for artists, particularly conceptual artists.
Badger, The Genius of Photography p. 208
To that extent Ruscha is owed a debt for the way he shook up the craft of photography.
[3Jan] There are eight images from the Gas Stations series in the book. Freidus says of Ruscha,
Edward Ruscha's photographic books number among the most enigmatic contributions to the art of the past three decades. Since this exhibition takes Ruschas work as its starting point, it must be admitted that while his typological presentation of subject matter yields an appearance of rationality, it does not guarantee that the resulting work is any less perplexing. Gregorio Magnani has noted a similar paradox in the work of the Bechers and their students: "This is a body of work distinguished by the clash between its extreme clarity of presentation and apparent lack of ambiguity on the one hand, and its high resistance to interpretation on the other." …
The casually framed photographs depict the unglamorous and barren surroundings of twenty-six gas stations between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City. Ruscha made this trip home frequently. Repetition and overstatement define the book's rhetorical mode, evoking the monotonous quality of the drive through the desert. In taking such mundane objects as gas stations, apartments, swimming pools, and empty lots as the subject matter for his books, Ruscha humorously engaged his everyday life, as did many funk and assemblage artists in California.
Ruscha's intention was that these pictures be artless and casual-that is, informational but not too informational. The night views in Twentysix Gasoline Stations are blurry due to the long exposure time and lack of a tripod-their lack of detail does not seem to have disturbed Ruscha. Ruscha noted at the time that he was uninterested in "still photography, that is, limited edition individual, hand processed photos. " One may presume that he objected to the modernist aesthetic this implied as much as the preciousness of the print. However, just as Walker Evans's laconic style is instantly recognizable, so Ruscha's snapshot aesthetic and grouping of images clearly mark his work. In 1972 he acknowledged their historical specificity: "I like the anonymity of photographs, but you can never achieve it. Years from now people will know that they were done in the 1960's."
Freidus, 1991, pp.14
Struth is another member of the Dusseldorf School, educated by the Bechers. Struth is best known for a series of photographs of museum interiors.
My personal view is one of admiration for the Bechers who dedicated their photographing careers to an æsthetically interesting, documentarily worthy, meticulously presented but ultimately rather tedious œuvre. The generation of photographers they educated rode the wave of photography becoming museum and gallery art, where colour is better and big is better still †: they are to be congratulated on their financial success.
[3Jan] There are ten black and white urban landscapes from Europe, the US and Japan in the book. They are unremarkable, though Lingwood describes his methodology as "placing the camera in the middle of a street, looking down a central perspective, so that the deviations from this perspective constituted within the general system. The photographs made in New York in 1978 were the earliest published examples of the working method he continued through much of the subsequent decade"
(Lingwood in Freidus, Lingwood & Slemmons, 1991, pp.10-11).
† I am happy to acknowledge, as I have elsewhere, that I was staggered by seeing Gursky's Paris, Montparnasse, 1993 at Tate Modern soon after it opened and it rekindled an interest in photography but that does not change my view as stated.
[1Nov] It seems to me that there is a continuum on which reside typologies, projects, extended projects and obsessions and it is difficult to determine which, if any, of these should not be categorised as typology.
It will be interesting to see what the book brings to this party.
[3Jan] It is the quality of the reproductions in the book, even more than their quantity and range that makes it a joy to own. Some insights on the photographers, their approaches and their methods are provided in the three accompanying essays but, as always with exhibitions, it is the images that count.
My November 2020 comment still seems accurate.
Badger, G. (2007) The genius of photography. London: Quadrille Publishing.
Barrett, T. (1997) Criticising photographs, an introduction to understanding images. 3rd ed. NY: McGrawHill.
Freidus, M, Lingwood, J. & Slemmons, R. (1991) Typologies: nine contemporary photographers. Newport Harbor Art Museum.
Grundberg, A. (2021) How photography became contemporary art. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.
Page created 31-Oct-2020 | Page updated 03-Jan-2022