Anyone who takes Interstate 71 North into Cincinnati can see how beautiful the skyline is. We love it so much we even named a chili chain after it. But the vista is made up entirely of buildings, with nary a natural formation in sight. This phenomenon is what “Human-Altered Landscapes,” one of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s newest exhibits, explores. 

The exhibit is based on a 1975’s “New Topographics,” which featured then-young photographers’ pictures of landscapes with water towers, homes and drive-ins. This was a departure from the work of well-known photographers such as Ansel Adams, whose photos showed the beauty of the natural world. Even paintings of landscapes at the time were often bucolic, depicting scenes before humans changed them. 

“The goal is to honor an earlier generation of photographers,” says Associate Curator of Photography Brian Sholis. “[They] kind of redefined the genre of landscape photography.”

The exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum is made up of half “New Topographics” artists from the 1975 show and half current photographers who were influenced by these 1970s photos. They all explore the impact that humans have had on landscapes, often focusing on the West. The photographers, says Sholis, have “a very cool and distanced-seeming, almost analytical, very rigorous visual style.” 

But that style was not well received in the 1975 show. Frank Gohlke, one of the photographers featured in that exhibit, has been quoted as saying, “What I remember most clearly from the original show was that almost no one liked it.” Initial reactions aside, the artists inspired a new generation of photographers. “They’ve had a really pervasive impact on the recent history of photography,” says Sholis. 

However, there have been some obvious changes. All but one photographer in the 1975 show used black-and-white film, and most of the photos are about 8-by-10 inches. In contrast, the newer photographers use color. And some of these photos are several feet across, though many were still shot with film. 

Another noticeable difference from the original exhibit is that the photos in “Human-Altered Landscapes” are all over the world. One depicts a man in Ghana, and another is of a mining operation in Australia. Some retain the starkness for which some of the “New Topographics” photographers were known. Others, however, depict what seem to be beautiful landscapes. It is only after careful inspection that the viewer can see the manmade impressions the landscape. 

Just in time for the 40th anniversary of the 1975 show, the exhibit opened a few days before Earth Day. All of the photos are a part of the museum’s permanent collection. “Human-Altered Landscapes” will be on display until July 19.