History of Photography Timeline— the New Topographics exhibition, Postmodernism, and Ilfochrome prints


April 19, 2013 by derrickjcullen

Photograph of a motel advertisement in its environment.

John Schott (United States, b. 1944). Untitled, from the series “Route 66 Motels,” 1973. Gelatin silver print; 8 x 10 inches. (© John Schott / from LACMA)

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape exhibition

What I remember most clearly from the original show was that almost nobody liked it. I think it wouldn’t be too strong to say that it was a vigorously hated show. Some people found it unutterably boring. Some people couldn’t believe we were serious, taking pictures of this stuff. And actually, that attitude is still very alive and well.

— Frank Gohlke

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape was a 1975 exhibition held at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. The show consisted of 168 photographs from eight individuals and one couple— Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore and Henry Wessel, Junior— and was curated by William Jenkins.

The subject matter varied, but stuck to a consistent theme; the concept of landscape photography was employed for the new, industrialized views that were, in essence, the “real” America. A certain level of detachment was conveyed within each photograph— almost imitating documentary work. What resulted was an honest portrayal of current views of the public. In a sense, it was a critique of industrialization— a sort of, “look at what we’ve done now,” perspective. The unemotional nature of both the subject matter and photographer combined to create boredom in some attendants. What went over the heads of everyone was that the emotion has to be created by the viewer. A reaction to the issue of western expansion and construction is where emotion comes into play. Unless the audience is willing to tune into themselves and formulate an opinion, the work— but honestly, the viewer— will be boring.

The show had a lasting impact; its themes influenced many contemporaries. Portraying the mundane, without ulterior motives, and irony have since become commonplace.

New Topographics (Redux)
LACMA traces photography’s New Topographics movement

Photograph of Jean-François Lyotard with a cigarette.

Professor Jean-François Lyotard in a conversation, Bracha Ettinger, 2005


Thought— source different truths people have about Postmodernism… This would then be a postmodern blog post about Postmodernism. The main tenets of this philosophy are the fact that absolutes do not exist; dualities are ill-conceived; and that truth is, in reality, relative— each individual on our planet perceives and senses their own truths and thus, expresses only that narrow perspective. So, to both explain and demonstrate this philosophy of Postmodernism, I will include definitions, quotes, or positions of various individuals or institutions.

Definition of POSTMODERN

1 : of, relating to, or being an era after a modern one

<postmodern times> <a postmodern metropolis>

2 a : of, relating to, or being any of various movements in
reaction to modernism that are typically characterized by a
return to traditional materials and forms (as in architecture)
or by ironic self-reference and absurdity (as in literature)

b : of, relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical
reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity,
history, or language <postmodern feminism>

Postmodernism is in general the era that follows Modernism. It frequently serves as an ambiguous overarching term for skeptical interpretations of culture, literature, art, philosophy, economics, architecture, fiction, and literary criticism. It is also confused with deconstruction and post-structuralism because its usage as a term gained significant popularity at the same time as twentieth-century post-structural thought.

Jean-François Lyotard:
“Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives.”

“In postmodernism, all religion, including Christianity, is reduced to the level of opinion. Christianity asserts that it is unique and that it does matter what we believe. Sin exists, sin has consequences, and anyone ignoring those truths has to face those consequences…”

romanticism/symbolism; purpose; design; hierarchy; mastery, logos; art object, finished word; distance; creation, totalization; synthesis; presence; centering; genre, boundary; semantics; paradigm; hypotaxis; metaphor; selection; depth; interpretation; reading; signified; lisible (readerly); narrative; grande histoire; master code; symptom; type; genital, phallic; paranoia; origin, cause; God the Father; Metaphysics; determinacy; transcendence

paraphysics/Dadaism; play; chance; anarchy; exhaustion, silence; process, performance; participation; deconstruction; antithesis; absence; dispersal; text, intertext; rhetoric; syntagm; parataxis; metonymy; combination; surface; against interpretation; misreading; signifier; scriptable; anti-narrative; petite histoire; idiolect; desire; mutant; polymorphous; schizophrenia; difference-difference; The Holy Ghost; irony; indeterminacy; immanence

Sources (besides those above)
After Postmodernism?

A cibachrome print of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II, Yousuf Karsh, cibachrome print, 1943


This is a technical process, so bear with me; I’m not entirely sure that I’ve gotten my head wrapped around it…

Ilfochrome— previously referred to as Cibachrome is a process and medium that was created by the Ciba-Geigy Corporation in the ‘60s. The process produces a print from color transparencies. Because the base of the print is plastic instead of paper, Ilfochrome has been the preferred method for archival work.

What makes the print so enduring is due to where the color dye is incorporated. Normal photographs receive their color from the chemistry, which places the dye on the paper; Ilfochrome prints have the dyes embedded within the plastic. The color is subsequently bleached out selectively. This yields a product that doesn’t fade in normal lighting, with extremely rich color. A bonus is that because the dye is already within the base, less toxic dyes are thrown away afterward. Unfortunately, it seems as though Ilford  discontinued the production of Ilfochrome in 2012.

Cibachrome— The Colour Print
An Introduction to Ilfochrome Printing
Ilford Chronology


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