Session at the 108th College Art Association of America Annual Conference

Danielle Jean Stewart, The Graduate Center, CUNY 

Many early photographic archives preserve images of traditional architecture that continue to exert ideological and aesthetic influence into the present, even as cities’ physical infrastructures shift. Nineteenth-century photographers like Charles Marville in Paris and Marc Ferrez in Rio de Janeiro were both contracted by their municipal governments to photographically document rapidly transforming local landscapes in order to preserve their architectural heritage in the face of modernization. In the wake of the fire in Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, photographic archives like these were quickly enlisted to aid in the reconstruction effort. In addition to preserving architectural histories, photographs are also employed to mold and/or censor a city’s visual image. This is especially evident in the case of mid-twentieth-century photo books like Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York (1939) or Horacio Coppola’s Buenos Aires (1936). More than mere travelogues, these volumes sought to understand the civic identities of cities flux. In the contemporary period, urban photography has also been used by minority communities in the United States to protest injustice and promote tangible social change. Along these lines, this panel seeks to understand the relationship between photography and the urban environment—is it documentary? symbiotic? passing?—and welcomes submissions that explore how this relationship has been framed across various geopolitical contexts and how it has shifted over time.