New Topographics and the Reinvention of American Landscape Photography, 1975


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


History of Art and Architecture


The 1975 George Eastman Museum exhibition “New Topographics” redefined the subject of landscape photography as the built environment, but its premise of a neutral style remains undertheorized. This dissertation reanalyzes the exhibition’s reception, framing the show as a nexus of the possibilities for both making and interpreting photographs of the American landscape in the 1970s. Defining neutrality as a function of viewer response, it argues that what qualifies “New Topographics” as a watershed was not its banal subject matter, but rather the interpretive work its unconventionally “cool” photographs placed on their audience. Radically departing from the romantic, expressive model of Ansel Adams, the photographs in the exhibition positioned viewers to regard the landscape critically. “New Topographics” emerges in this study as a product and agent of key shifts in the 1970s photography world, and as an important installment within the period’s theorizations of authorship, viewership, and expressivity.