The Topographic Imaginary

BookThe Topographic Imaginary

The Topographic Imaginary

Attending to Place in Contemporary French Photography

Contemporary French and Francophone Cultures, 84


May 13th, 2022

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Since the early 1980s, art photographers from metropolitan France have been training their lenses on ordinary landscapes throughout the country they call home. The Topographic Imaginary is the first book to study this important and flourishing trend. It examines work by artists who meld documentary and creative modes to attune viewers to places that mainstream culture tends to tune out, but which, as Ari J. Blatt argues, are in fact more meaningful than they initially appear. From views of building sites in Paris, peri-urban edgelands, or a tangle of trees in a forest, to those that ponder the play of light and shadow on roadside fields in Normandy or the tacky colors painted on dated village shopfronts, images that signal the emergence of a “topographic turn” in contemporary French photography constitute new ways of seeing and sensing France’s diverse national territory. As Blatt suggests, they also represent a visual laboratory through which to investigate how landscape “scapes” our understanding of French culture. In their efforts to reimagine a more traditional and time-worn idea of France’s shared common space, topographic photographs animate conversations about capital and class; cities and their peripheries; the politics and impact of development; migration and borders; memory, history, and affect; empire and postcolonialism; national identity; and the changing environment. The Topographic Imaginary thus reveals how attending to place in pictures provides valuable insight into the disposition of a nation in flux.

Author Information

Ari J. Blatt is an Associate Professor of French at the University of Virginia

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
1 Construction Sights43
2 Peripheral Visions, or Paris Orbital71
3 Mission: France103
4 Thick Landscapes125
5 Roots and Routes185
Coda: On the Ruins of Empire213