Marc Freidus defines a typology as a collection of members of the same class or type in his essay included in the book “Typologies – Nine Contemporary Photographers”, catalog of the exhibition held at several museum between 1992 and 1992, that featured works of Bernd and Hilla Becher, Lynne Cohe, Judy Fiskin, Candida Hofer, Roger Mertin, Thomas Ruff, Edward Ruscha and Thomas Struth.

A wider definition establishes that:

“A typology is assembled by observation, collection, naming and grouping. These actions allow the members of a class to be compared, usually in search of broader patterns. These patterns may reveal biological constants if the subjects are living things, or social truths if the subject are human creations”

(Freidus, 1991)

It is interesting to notice that the actions performed by the typologist are directed by a previous intention and definition of the class and the attributes that the subject should have to belong to that class. In fact, there is a natural predisposition coded in our DNA, which lead us to organize and classify the chaos in order to get a better understand of the reality,  and let us acquire and transmit the knowledge. However, in the Adams’ book “Archaelogical Typology and Practical Reality” the author established a distinction typology as a kind of classification:

“A typology is a particular kind of classification, made for the sorting of entities. A type, unlike other kinds of classes, is also a sorting category… Classifying is, very simply, the act of creating categories; sorting is the act of putting things into them after they have been created. One is a process of definition, the other of attribution”.

(Adams and Adams, 1991)

To establish a typology is required that the tyologist discovers or constructs a type, defining those attributes that the members should have to join the class. Here there is a subjective intention of the typologist, who defines the properties according to his own criterion and  to the message he wants to convey on the typology, and also decides what subjects are suitable to enter the class.

I think that the definition Freidus is very restricted because it establishes that the patterns of the typology could help to reveal social truths. In her essay “The Photographic Typologies: The archive and Psysiognomy in Weimar Germany” Eirini Grigoriadou compares two typologies, both organized under the structure of the archive, but with very different approaches, results and intentions: Sander’s “Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts” (Men of the 20th Century) and the work of Erna Lendvai-Dircksen: “Das deutsche Volkgesich” (The Face of German People). While the in the first one there is an intention of reveal the social profile of the German society, perhaps influenced by the nostalgic vision of a society hierarchically organized, the second one is an extraordinary example of racial propaganda. Where is the truth that Freidus states could be revealed in the typology. Sander gives voice and legitimizes the voice of the German society that calls for the need to rediscover the security of a social order defeated after the First World War. However, the purpose of the work of Lendvai-Dircksen is very different, and establishes an idealized model in which the racial and cultural narcissism of the ruling class in power will be reflected.

Typology is closed related with the idea of archive, and encouraged for the Positivism, photography has played an important role in the construction of photographic archives for scientific purposes as a way for gathering information and looking for patterns and evidences to base on scientific research. However, this scientific approach was considered by some artists who used the normative procedures of typology as a way to express their subjective point of view of reality, and we have good examples of that in the work of Karl Blossfeldt, whose nature repetitive patterns could be perfectly considered as a botanic work, or Bernd and Hilla Becher’s water towers that look like the result of an Archaeological research. Güven Incirlioglu reflects about this question in the essay “Typologies in Photography”, regarding that is precisely the subjectivity on defining the types what makes typology an appropriate medium on which the artists can construct their artworks, and raises questions about where are the limits between the artwork and scientific archive:

“In their most comprehensive typology of Water Towers, the photographs were all made from the same angle of view, at a certain time of day, under an overcast sky that supplies the most uniform lighting, and the image of the subject occupied a certain size on the photographic paper which allows comparison among the members of the type. Regardless of the intentions of the artists, the unexpressiveness in their work has been contextualized by artistc authorities within Minimalism and Conceptual Art of recent times, mostly another curational matter.”

(Güven Incirlioglu, 1994)

Taken into account such statement and the evolution that follows the works of Sander and Lendvai-Dircksende, rejected and celebrated respectively by the Nazi regime, all that lead me to considerate how the photographic archive or typology is not a simple photographic evidence of the reality, so it can be contextualized according to the viewer preferences or ideology. The work of these two German photographers can easily be consider as framework within which the societies validate (in different ways) themselves:

“Each society has constructed its own “regime of truth” elaborating frameworks, institutions and discourses which validate particular procedures and permit us to distinguish true from false statements”

(Surveyors and Surveyed, Derrick Price)

In the conclusions of her essay that reflects about the usage of archives and typologies by Weimar photographers Sander and Lendvai-Dircksen, Grigoriadou considers that precisely those photographic practices of the Positivism movement prove either that the power of photography as an evidence of reality is not determined by the characteristics of the medium, and that the meaning of photography is not neutral and it depends of the context on which the picture is read.


Wells, L. (ed.) (2015) Photography: A critical introduction. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Grigoriadou, E. (2014) ‘The Photographic Typologies: The Archive and the Physiognomy in Weimar Germany’, Anales de Historia del Arte, 24(Especial Number), pp. 185–195.

İncirlioğlu, G.C. (2013) ‘TYPOLOGIES IN PHOTOGRAPHY’, METUJFA, 14, pp. 1–2.

Timmermans, M. (2016) Typologies in Photography. Available at: (Accessed: 27 September 2016).