New Topographics: New Dimensions in Landscape
Upon first glance this exhibition appears to be two unrelated exhibitions. One side of the hall features mainly panoramic rural landscapes, not all are framed; whilst the opposite side displays vibrant night cityscapes, hung using traditional mounts and frames. However, the two sides of the exhibition represent the two sides of the successful “McCoy Wynn partnership”, and link the projects “triangulation” and Gulls” into the theme “Coordinates”.
McCoy and Wynn state that they are heavily influence by the American New Topographic movement, started in 1970’s America by Bernd and Hilla Becher, Stephen Shore and Robert Adams and others. This influence continues too be seen in the work of many contemporary photographers, particularly Becher’s students like Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff and Candida Höfer, who, collectively, became known as the “Dusseldorf School of Photography”.
The panoramic rural landscapes are part of an on-going project to photograph all of the 314 British triangulation points. The 360 degree panoramas are produced by placing the digital camera and tripod on top of the trig point. Due largely to the British weather, the overall appearance is drab and flat. In the true style of the New Topographic photographers, there is no attempt to romanticise the scene; there are no shafts of dramatic light, or awe-inspiring skies, as in traditional landscape photography. The style is purely documentary – recording a 360 degree view of the vista from each triangulation point, and accompanied by an image of the point itself. The legend on each image is simply its OS reference.
The final two panoramas, unframed and pinned to the wall, underline the documentary ‘working’ style, and give a nod to the original surveyors who, with instruments and rolls of paper, charted and measured these sites over a century ago.
On the opposite side of the gallery the “Gulls” project is displayed. These are traditionally sized and framed, digitally enhanced nightscapes of Liverpool. Using no additional lighting, a slow shutter speed was used to record the flight paths of gulls as they fly above manmade landmarks. The light from buildings and streetlights enhances the architecture and provides a dramatic foreground to the dark skies above, and the colourful, digitally enhanced flight paths.
Both “Triangulation” and “Gulls” are linked by navigation. The triangulation points were part of the great Victorian endeavour to measure and accurately record the world around them – producing scientific maps of our land. The gulls have adapted to a world of manmade ‘cliffs’, and navigate by the stars above. In the centre of one image, is the North Star – the most important navigation point to man. In another image is the Liver Building, with its birds welcoming travellers safely home.
As navigation moves to the sky, and satellite mapping surpasses paper records and plans, the stone triangulation points are no more than totemic. They have become monuments to the heroic navigators, and surveyors of the past. One of my favourite images from the exhibition was of one of these vital points now being part of a garden wall, and the 360 degree image capturing a little slice of suburban life., and being visible from no further away than a garden shed.
McCoy and Wynn have captured the changes in human navigation, and their work will form an important archive of on-going technological change and man’s impact on his environment.