Images play a critical role in shaping perceptions of what cities are, have been, and should be. Documentary images, in particular, have both influenced and reflected the implementation of urban policy. In the Progressive Era, for example, Jacob Riis’s lantern slides stimulated tenement reform in New York City. In the 1930s, Farm Security Administration photographs helped justify New Deal policies. In the post-World War II decades, government-sponsored images spurred urban renewal at the local level. Images from the past also drove postwar historic preservation decisions about how to restore selected properties to mimic earlier eras.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, photographs of despoiled natural environments helped instigate passage of federal policies like the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Moreover, across time, images of natural disasters—from San Francisco to New Orleans—have shaped local decisions about what, where, and how to rebuild. This two-day symposium explores the relationship between images—especially photographs—and the urban built environment. Through presentation and conversation among an interdisciplinary group of image makers and scholars, we will consider the often silent ways that visual representations have helped structure the policies and practices of urban life.
Organized by Francesca Russello Ammon (PennDesign)