Serial Numbers

Ed  Ruscha with his “Twentysix Gasoline Stations” and “Every Building on Sunset Strip” has a lot to answer for, although he could perhaps shift some of the blame onto Bernd and Hilla Becher in Dusseldorf.

Since they made their work, splendid though it often was, the rather straightforward and simple concept of “typologies” has provided rather easy ways to think of and carry out photographic projects, though it’s been instructive over the years to see what a pig’s ear some students have made of them. Perhaps fortunately in that it has usually been the “mistakes” that have given any interest to their work.

What soon becomes obvious is that, even given the straight-jacket of the concept, the interest in the result is still so very dependent on the photographic seeing of the photographer, a thought that came very obviously to me on seeing the black and white set of images by  Jeff Brouws, which you can see on artkrush , Twenty-six Abandoned Gasoline Stations (very consciously a direct homage to Ruscha’s work) on a stand at Paris Photo. (There is also a good interview with Brouws on the site with a link to more pictures.)

Typologies such as this are succesful as photographic series because Brouws is a photographer who very much follows the advice of the sage to “let the subject determine its own composition.” You can see more of his more recent work on his own website, where it also becomes clear that typologies greatly benefit from interesting and important subject matter.

This is perhaps even more clear in the work of the Bechers, where the intrinsic complexity of the industrial structures elevates their work above the tedium of the framework house series.

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