THE PICTURE OF MODERN LIFE: STREET PHOTOGRAPHY AND URBAN MODERNITY WITH A CASE STUDY OF MANHATTAN'S LOWER EAST SIDE
My senior project explores street photography (defined as photography of strangers in public places) and its relationship to urban modernity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I have focused my research on the quintessentially modern concept of society as a mass and the way that street photographers, acting as an extension of the nineteenth-century French street type known as the flâneur, have used their peculiar art form to characterize the modern urban masses at particular times and places in history.
I first examine the work of French photographer Eugène Atget, the first of his profession to share the flâneur's sensibility and interest in observing the urban masses. I also argue that street photography has an important function as historical document in that it allows us to re-live, in a sense, one person's subjective visual experience of daily life in a time and place; it gets us closer to a sympathetic understanding of what philosopher Arthur C. Danto calls the "interior" of a period in history.
To illustrate these arguments I examine the work of three photographers who documented street life on Manhattan's Lower East Side: Jacob Riis, Berenice Abbott and Weegee. Each photographer's work betrays a different conception of the modern urban masses and of the relationship between people and a particular neighborhood at different points in time. As an accompaniment to my research I have conducted my own street photography project on the Lower East Side and in comparable Philadelphia neighborhoods in an attempt to better understand street photography from the photographer's perspective.
SECTOR B: Art and Culture of Seeing
Advisers: Karen Rodewald (FNAR) | Liliane Weissberg (GRMN/COML)