Monthly Archives: November 2008

Typologies and such

Well the typologies show is up and running. I wanted to write something about it but in the end I didn’t want to direct people too much in their reading of the show.

So instead I decided to write something over here.

The whole purpose of the typologies show was to see how far the limits of that genre of photography have been stretched and whether or not it is still a valuable and critical tool for contemporary photography. Now I am no rocket scientist, but I do know that the definition of a typology lies more in the hand of the artists who want to work with it than it does in some dictionary. Like a ball of clay, it can be molded and formed by the artist into a million different things.

I tried not to give to much of a definition of what it was in the call for work because I knew that the artists who think they are working with it would know what it was. It was a whole case of the the “if you have to ask, you’ll never know.” I received a wide range of entries. Some sent in many different varieties. I picked three as the number because, well it is the magic number, and also because it is enough to get the idea without being overwhelming and due to constriction size of a website.

I tried to arrange it in a manner that flowed, but to be honest the work covered such a wide variety that it was quite impossible. But that very problem got me thinking about the wide range and instead I decided to focus on that range. Everything from portraits to landscapes. Even performance was represented.

Now I know the typology has come a long way. Even before the Bechers. The typology, before it was even defined, was used for racial and social profiling in the 1800′s. At the time, physiognomy and phrenology were quite popular as science. Scientists would use the photograph to define characteristics of criminals and try to predetermine the facial structures that could predict certain sorts of social misfits. While in the end, the experiments turned out to be a failure, the typology became a part of photography.

In the end, I felt like the typology has become almost a gimmick. Not that there aren’t good typologies out there, there are, but from the amount of entries I received and the overall quality, I wonder if artists use it as a guaranteed way of being taken more seriously? I can remember going through school and seeing these pop up quite often in critiques.

I still think the typology is a viable tool for contemporary artists. We just need to learn to move the dialogue and the genre forward. It like most things in contemporary art suffers from a staleness.