Part III introduces us to telling stories and exploring visual themes with photographs, to deepen our understanding of the meaning of images and the way photographs communicate. I began this part of the course by doing an in-depth research on various typologies of famous works and the resulting research of its adaptation and interpretation in contemporary photography.
The first project of part III starts with understanding series and sequence. Before I could do any research on it at all, I was presented with an opportunity to go to an unfamiliar place, via road. So, I began a six-hour road journey with the brief to capture anything that I found interesting or visually appealing, this was just what I needed. Having found some very interesting subjects, I had a good collection of image data that I called – “Treasures from the Indian highways”. I had various ideas emerging from this data and many ideas on how to document and present it. This initial indecisiveness led me to leave this database untouched for now and began with the coursework that suggested Gerard Richter’s work as a research point. That’s where I began my introduction to typologies and a fascinating journey that led to a lot of research and understanding. It was with a little interest that I started my research until I reached slide 108/110 of his works; the atlas – cities – that really caught my eye and I was fascinated. I began to notice, recognize and understand subtleties in what started as an apparently indifferent approach to typologies for me.
It led me to undertake an intensive research on typologies further leading me to read about the famous works of photographers who were the pioneers in this genre of photography and how it has influenced and shaped contemporary photography. I also learned about the formats, the techniques, the technical details of how these works were achieved and why such techniques were adopted to achieve a consistent documentation of the subject undertaken. What appeared to be a boring and extremely simple way of capturing data turned out to be quite the opposite and the techniques adopted by different photographers fascinating to read and learn. Although I have taken out some keywords and focus points from all this research, I would urge the viewers to go on to the links below to get a thorough understanding of what typologies are all about.
A Typology is a photographic tool to achieve any/all of the areas below:
- Visual classification
- Photographic evidence
- Scientific Objectivity of photographic evidence
- Categories/sequences of identically organized images
- Study or interpretation of types of things
- A systematic documentation of aspects
- Photographic Information System
- Classify and record information
- Conceptual Tool
- Interpreting social reality
- Conceptual categorization
- To provide a historical and critical context
- Vision of repetition
- To prompt the viewer to consider the subject’s place in the world.
- Memory, or preservation?
- Order and uniformity
I had trouble understanding the meaning of this genre until now and its purpose till now. This research led me to completely understand why it was so significant not only as a photography medium but also its historical importance. My research started with August Sanders 1929 series of portraits, entitled ‘Face of Our Time.’ With this series, he sought to create a record of society, its various classes and their existing relationships. With this series, he recognized the power of his work as a collection rather than the impact that an individual photograph could have ever achieved.
The term typology first came to be used to describe a style of photography with the works of Bernd & Hilla Becher, who are considered to be the pioneers of this style. They created typologies of industrial architecture in 1959 and their resulting work was awarded under the sculpture category. What was intriguing to read was what prompted or led the husband-wife duo to only concentrate on creating typologies of large industrial architectural structures. To sum up their vision –
“The Bechers were fascinated by the speed at which technology evolves, leaving old innovations in the dust, often to be destroyed. They worked actively to preserve the memory of these structures by photographing them, often scheduling their projects around demolition dates, and on more than one occasion photographing one end of a factory while it was being torn down on the other. But it is a memory entirely devoid of sentimentality or nostalgia, for their consistently straightforward style prevents the injection of emotion into any of the images. As viewers, we have no idea if the factory in front of us still stands today, or was leveled years ago.”
This was indeed a very interesting approach, one that led to the curiosity of what and how they achieved it. I watched a few videos of Bernd & Hilla Becher where they describe how they shot these mammoth structures from one vantage point, keeping the same angle and same lighting conditions, usually with telephoto lenses as much as 600mm zoom to avoid distortions and always on overcast days to avoid any shadows or distractions due to sunlight. Their work displayed a dispassionate, emotionless, documentation of similar subjects, devoid of any human or physical activity but yet had a distinct reflection of the human hand that went into creating these structures.
“The Bechers changed our idea of what the photographic image could be,” Engler explains. “They tried to give an idea of the complexity of their time, by showing that perception isn’t based on one image, but always on a series of images. This was very influential.”
Their influence as lecturers at the Dusseldorf School of Photography, in turn, influenced the next generation of photographers who followed this style of photography. Some of the famous names include Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Demand, Gillian Wearing, Candida Hofer, Martina Mullaney, Stephen Shore and Ari Versluis.
The other photographers in who I studied are:
- Ukrainian photographer Boris Mikhailov, famous for his German portraits, inspired by Sanders’ work – both of their works were exhibited together in 2012
- Nicholas Nixon; his project “sisters” is an interesting way of applying typology to a personal documentation of family
- Ed Ruscha, an American artist, who combines his interest in painting and photography both, has also presented some encouraging new conceptual approaches to the medium and heightening interest in analyzing the built landscape. His photo books and techniques of shooting entire streets in a slow-moving automobile is a unique approach resulting in some great work.
- Taryn Simon, a conceptual artist, who has worked bloodlines across the world.
- Michael Wolf; Paris tree shadows and other urban phenomena, Tokyo compression, Hong Kong, etc. are some of his famous works.
- Zhao Xiaomeng, bicycles in Beijing
Many times in the past, I have noticed myself taking pictures of things that caught my eye – like a few years back I found myself making images of ornate doors I found at different places I traveled to. I always left those projects halfway thinking or questioning their whole purpose. Studying about typologies has made me understand their relevance and also given a purpose to a few projects like these that I had undertaken personally that I am enthused now to take on again.
To sum up my learnings from this research, I have come to understand that visual typologies often help you discern more subtle details through repetition. What needs to be kept in mind is that a similar approach must be followed to make all the images like roughly the same angle, the same lighting conditions. This becomes important because if the typological images have to be presented in a grid manner, it’s necessary to have the uniformity and consistency to not only show the repetitive nature but also to allow the viewer the chance to take up their own investigation into the work.
“Everything is the same to all the tiny details so that nothing looks out of place: everything has a uniformity to it. Having this uniformity, the work offers the “audience the opportunity… to delight in ‘differences in composition, rhythm and formal solutions where an ordinarily distracted eye would see only indifference and standardization.” (Stimson, 2012) This is a key point to realize, as if one image, whilst presented with others in a grid, was different then the main focus would be on that individual picture to ask why it was different. So, having everything the same, it allows the viewer to spot their own key details themselves making them get involved in the image.
I have noticed a kind of typology emerging in my images from the road trip and am now eager to go back to the data and present it in an interesting manner, having learned about the relevance of typology now. I will now be better equipped to start with my exercises 3.1/3.2.
Reference – Typologies