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The City in Photography 1900-1948

View of an empty street in front of a men's clothing store.
Walker Evans
Untitled
1929 - 1939
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry H. Lunn, Jr., in Honor of the Centennial of The Michigan Daily
1990/2.55
This photograph of a sidewalk in front of a store shows it devoid of inhabitants.
Walker Evans
Untitled
1929 - 1939
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry H. Lunn, Jr., in Honor of the Centennial of The Michigan Daily
1990/2.54
This is a photograph of the side of a building with two posters advertising a movie and circus.
Walker Evans
Movie and Minstrel Show Posters on Brick Wall, Demopolis, Alabama
1935
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Maxine and Lawrence K. Snider
2011/2.7
Interior view of Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.
Berenice Abbott
Penn Station, Interior, Manhattan
1935 - 1939
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Mrs. Ursula R. Freimarck through the Friends of the Museum of Art
1971/2.127
A headless mannequin wearing a white shirt and pants.
Eugène Atget
Mannequin
1927 - 1974
gold-toned gelatin silver print | paper
Museum Purchase
1974/1.119
Display window advertising men's suits.
Eugène Atget
Men's Fashions
1925 - 1974
gold-toned gelatin silver print | paper
Museum Purchase
1974/1.107
This photograph is a view of a two-storey town house featuring a cast-iron façade and recessed balconies.
Walker Evans
529 Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana
1935
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry H. Lunn, Jr., in Honor of the Centennial of The Michigan Daily
1990/2.56
Berenice Abbott
August Pingpank Barber Shop, 413 Bleecker Street
1938
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Two Friends of the Museum
1995/1.44
View of a hardware store display, with an assortment of tools and other objects in the window and displayed on the sidewalk in front of the store.
Berenice Abbott
Hardware Store
1935 - 1939
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Maxine and Lawrence K. Snider
2011/2.5
Display window of a butcher's shop.
Eugène Atget;Berenice Abbott
Boucherie, Rue Christine
1923 - 1974
gold-toned gelatin silver print | paper
Museum Purchase
1974/1.121
This photography is a view of a row of Victorian townhouses in Brooklyn, framed on the left by the angular L-shape of a street lamp post.
Walker Evans
Brownstone Houses, 222 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York
1930 - 1931
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry H. Lunn, Jr., in Honor of the Centennial of The Michigan Daily
1990/2.57
View of the Brooklyn Bridge stretching across the East River at twilight with city buildings in the foreground. 
John Francis Strauss
The Bridge
1903
photogravure | Japanese tissue
Gift of the Marvin Felheim Collection
1983/1.293

THE CITY: 1900-1948

This portfolio allows students to investigate photographs of changing ideas of “the city” during the first half of the twentieth century. This is the moment when modernity becomes visible through skyscrapers and the everydayness of modern technologies like electricity, streetlights, streetcars, bicycles, automobiles, radio, and photography. This portfolio also reveals the interest of photographers in social issues: class differences, living conditions, and differing professions.


Work Description


“The soft-focus that dominated pictorialism was employed by Coburn in this image looking down Fifth Avenue from the St. Regis Hotel. In the gathering gloom, the spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the left and the tower of St. Thomas Episcopal Church at the right create an evocative atmosphere that belies the reality of New York in 1910. In his foreword to New York, H.G. Wells noted that this image of the city was his least favorite. He stated that he’d never seen New York look hazy and that Fifth Avenue, from the St. Regis represents the city in an uncharacteristically reflective mood. The towering energy of Wall Street is more in keeping with New York, but this elegiac view of Fifth Avenue may signal the disappearance of the city that would have been familiar to Henry James and Edith Wharton.”

-Carole McNamara, Assistant Director for Collections & Exhibitions

Related Article

Wigoder, Meir, "The "Solar Eye" of Vision: Emergence of the Skyscraper-Viewer in the Discourse on Heights in New York City, 1890-1920," in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 61, No. 2 (Jun., 2002), p. 152-69 [focus on p.165-67]

Article Discussion Questions

  • What were some of his aesthetic or pictorial influences?
  • In what way did Coburn desire to portray the city in his photographs?
  • How does the work Fifth Avenue, from the St. Regis, reflect his investigation of what Wigoder calls “the skyscraper-viewer,” and how does this reflect modernity?

Further Reading

Marl Jefferson, “The Real New York in 1910,” in Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, Vol. 43, no. 10, 1911, p. 737-740.

Amy E. Johnson, “Crooked and Narrow Streets,” in Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 47, No. 1, Spring 2013, p. 35-64.


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Architecture and buildings — by seth@whirl-i-gig.com (February 13 2017 @ 1:03 pm)
Cities — by seth@whirl-i-gig.com (February 13 2017 @ 1:03 pm)
Modernization — by seth@whirl-i-gig.com (February 13 2017 @ 1:03 pm)
Urban life — by seth@whirl-i-gig.com (February 13 2017 @ 1:03 pm)
Urbanization — by seth@whirl-i-gig.com (February 13 2017 @ 1:03 pm)

Part of 7 Learning Collections

American Orientalist art at the turn of the 20th century
<p>America Encounters Asia in Art</p>

50 Collection Object Sources

New York (1990/2.55)
Men's Fashions (1974/1.107)
Mannequin (1974/1.119)
New York (1990/2.54)
The Bridge (1983/1.293)
Hardware Store (2011/2.5)
Brooklyn Bridge (1972/1.170)
Trinity Church (1989/1.72)
New York at Night (2002/1.156)
Carrousel (1974/1.111)
Environs of Paris (1974/1.123)
Bar de Cabaret (1974/1.115)
Street Musicians (1974/1.120)
Maison Close (1974/1.114)
Street Paver (1974/1.116)
Eclipse (1974/1.108)
Pittsburgh, PA (1978/2.32)

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Creative Commons by-nc-sa (University of Michigan Museum of Art)

Last Updated

February 7, 2020 1:33 p.m.

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