Typology in Photography

As part of my research, I decided to look at the idea of typologies in photography as a way of understanding my work in a better light, as well as when it comes to presenting it. So what exactly is typology then?

“Typology is the study of types, and a photographic typology is a suite of images or related forms, shot in a consistent, repetitive manner.” (Tyler, 2011) At the same time it is something that appeals to the “collector in all of us.” (Caird, 2012) Ideally what a typologies aim is for the viewer (and the creator) to reflect on the similarities and the differences between the object/subject we are looking at.


The first artists to start looking at the idea of typologies in their work were Bernd and Hilla Becher, in particular their Water Towers project. Each photograph was taken from the same angle, at roughly the same distance from the buildings. To help give the images some uniformity, they only took the images on overcast days and early in the morning to avoid shadows. (Phaidon, n.d.) In this project they wanted capture a record of a landscape that was changing and disappearing before their eyes. Typologies not only recorded a moment in time, they prompted the viewer to consider the subject’s place in the world. The Becher’s wanted to “connect one image or one encounter or one object to the next and the next and the next” (Stimson, 2012)

What is interesting about this project is that the Bechers had a vision of repetition throughout the whole work. As a typology, this fits in with the whole idea of creating a “perfect chain.” (Stimson, 2012) 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 standardisation.” (Stimson, 2012) This is a key point to realise, 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.


Bernd and Hiller Becher was just the start of typological work to come out in the photo-graphical world. James Mollison created his work James & Other Apes. In this work, Mollison was interested in the facial similarities in apes and humans, and wanted to explore the grey area, in which he says  it would be “interesting to try to photograph gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans using the aesthetic of the passport photograph- its ubiquitous style inferring the idea of identity” (Theophanidis, 2011) Again in this work, there is a repetition of the same process in how the work is made; everything is framed in the right style and lighting (obviously due to the colour of the faces there will be a discrepancy in colour.) Similar to what I talked about in my older posts, here Mollision uses the same background colour in order to fully focus on the apes faces; however if he wanted to show it like passport photo’s he could of used a white background possibly. However I feel the black background works just as well, and I think brings more focus onto the faces. 


Rineke Dijkstra is well known for her portraitures of people, but what is perhaps her most interesting work to me in reference to this typological research. Her Beach Portraiture work is interesting as it came from a personal idea when Dijkstra “photographed herself immediately after swimming a gruelling 30 laps. She thought that fatigue would lend the photograph an emotional immediacy. It did.”(SMITH, 2012)  The work is set up so all the subjects look all the same; again to avoid any discrepancies in the images. In this work, the viewer can look at the impact of time on the people in general.  We look at the age of the people, and in their faces we see some vulnerability in them.


Finally, even though I have talked about his work already, in Impact by Paul Smith, his images again are all performed in the same manner, shot the same, same lighting. As the work is presented in an evidential way, it has to all be the same. So it comes under that typological idea of repetitive shots. What’s interesting is that the story behind the bullets are not related in most cases, but its the way that they are presented which is where the link together.

So overall, what I have gathered from this is that if I was to go down on a typological approach to shooting my images, I need to bear in mind that I need all the images to be repetitive in the way they are shot; so this means that they all to taken roughly at the same angle. And with that comes the same lighting; in all of the above photographers they have maintained the same lighting throughout to light the subjects evenly, especially with the backgrounds being used.
This is all important to note as if I was to present all my images as a grid, having the uniformity and consistency will be key to showing a repitive nature, but also to allow the viewer the chance to take up their own investigation into the work.

Caird, B. (2012). Photographic Typologies: The Study of Types. [online] Redbubble Blog. Available at: http://blog.redbubble.com/2012/04/photographic-typologies-the-study-of-types/ [Accessed 23 Nov. 2014].

Phaidon, (n.d.). How the Bechers made the boring beautiful | Photography | Agenda | Phaidon. [online] Available at: http://uk.phaidon.com/agenda/photography/picture-galleries/2011/november/18/how-the-bechers-made-the-boring-beautiful/ [Accessed 24 Nov. 2014].

SMITH, R. (2012). Rineke Dijkstra at the Guggenheim Museum. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/06/arts/design/rineke-dijkstra-at-the-guggenheim-museum.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 [Accessed 24 Nov. 2014].

Stimson, B. (2012). The Photographic Comportment of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Tate Papers, [online] (1753-9854). Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/download/file/fid/7229 [Accessed 24 Nov. 2014].

Theophanidis, P. (2011). James Mollison Photography: “James & Other Apes” (2004). [online] APHELIS. Available at: http://aphelis.net/james-mollison-photography-james-other-apes-2004/ [Accessed 24 Nov. 2014].

Tyler, S. (2011). Typologies – Steve Tyler Photography. [online] Cargocollective.com. Available at: http://cargocollective.com/stevetylerphotography/Typologies [Accessed 23 Nov. 2014].


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