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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
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
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
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 photograph shows the façade of a brick building on a street corner.
Walker Evans
Brick Building on Corner of James Slip and Water Street, New York City
1933 - 1934
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry H. Lunn, Jr., in Honor of the Centennial of The Michigan Daily
1990/2.51
View of a passageway in Paris.
Eugène Atget
Rue St. Rustique, Monmartre
1922 - 1974
gold-toned gelatin silver print | paper
Museum Purchase
1974/1.113
Photograph of a woman reading at a bus stop in front of a department store vitrine.
Walker Evans
Untitled
1924 - 1934
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry H. Lunn, Jr., in Honor of the Centennial of The Michigan Daily
1990/2.50
Elevated view down on a spire of a church in front of two tall office buildings.
Berenice Abbott
Trinity Church
1935 - 1938
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Harry H. Lunn Jr.
1989/1.72
Elevated view of a rain-glazed street lined with parked cars and trees.
Walker Evans
Main Street, Saratoga Springs, New York
1931
gelatin silver print | paper
Museum Purchase made possible by the Friends of the Museum of Art
1971/2.138
Courtyard behind a group of buildings with a car and several motorcycles parked in front.
Eugène Atget
Cour, Rue de Valence
1922 - 1974
gold-toned gelatin silver print | paper
Museum Purchase
1974/1.117
View of a storefront with people sitting in front on benches and entering the shop through a doorway.
Walker Evans
Sidewalk Scene, Selma, Alabama
1935
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry H. Lunn, Jr., in Honor of the Centennial of The Michigan Daily
1990/2.59
View of the exterior of a tinsmith's shop in a Parisian passageway.
Eugène Atget
Un Coin de la Rue Reynie
1912
albumen print | paper
Museum Purchase made possible by the Friends of the Museum of Art
1971/2.140

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

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Last Updated

January 17, 2019 10:22 a.m.

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