Depth of Field, volume 7, no. 1 (December 2015)Gisela Parak: From ‘Topographic’ to ‘Environmental’ – A Look into the Past and the Presence of the New Topographics Movement

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Forty years after its inauguration, the 1975 George Eastman House exhibition New Topographics – Photographs of a Man-Altered landscape is generally considered as legendary. Moreover, one talks of a New Topographics movement. How did the show become the myth it is today? Who are the protagonists that keep this movement alive? This essay argues the New Topographics’ legacy and claims that next to the style that curator William Jenkins has identified as ‘topographic’ to summarize the photographers of the New Topographics exibition , it was the topic of a ‘man-altered landscape’ that resonated in all other parts of the world. Based on the exhibition Landschaft. Umwelt. Kultur. On the New Topographics’ Transnational Impact and a symposium held on 30 October 2015 at the Museum für Photographie in Brunswick, Germany,[1] this essay explores how the ideas of the New Topographics disseminated transnationally and merged with the emerging environmental conscience at the end of the 1970s. Furthermore, parallel or roughly at the same time, a flourishing of photographic methods of presenting landscape and nature in a more timely matter originated in Germany, France, and in the Netherlands. This essay suggests that after forty years of critical landscape depiction, the ‘topographic’ approach was dissolved by an ‘environmental’ understanding of landscape representation.