Monthly Design Review - December 2020

This month we contemplate photography's ability to capture the passage of time and its effect on architecture and daily life.

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF BUILDINGS: On Photography and Time (Joel Smith, 2011)

This book, which accompanied an exhibition at the Princeton University Art Museum, explores the intersection of architecture and time through photography. "Photographs and buildings are at once the products, the vessels and the cargo of history" writes Smith.


The book is survey a of works from the 1840s to the present by photographers as canonical as Bernd and Hilla Becher, Lewis W. Hine, and William Henry Fox Talbot. The book considers how photographers’ images reflect and inflect the passage of time. “Much as a building’s shifting function and circumstances substantially alter its significance, a photograph comes to be co-authored by history, growing layers of meaning to which its maker had no access,” Smith said.


Buy the book here.

TRACKING TIME: Documenting America’s Post-Industrial Cities (Camilo José Vergara, 2014)

For more than four decades photographer Camilo Vergara has been documenting the poorest and most segregated communities in urban America. As a visual tracker, photographic sociologist, ethnographer and urban researcher, he has created a unique archive of American (urban) history, cataloguing the changes in architecture and communities.


In Vergara's own words: "I am a builder of virtual cities. I think of my images as bricks that, when placed next to each other, reveal shapes and meanings of neglected urban communities".

Buy the book here.

Visit Camilo Jose Vergara's website here.

PONTE CITY (Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse, 2008-2020)

Magnum Photographer Mikhael Subotzky and artist Patrick Waterhouse worked at Ponte City, the iconic Johannesburg apartment building which is Africa’s tallest residential skyscraper, for more than six years. They photographed the residents and documented the building while also researching its history.


When the structure was built in 1975, the neighborhood surrounding it was exclusively white, and the residence was envisioned as an apartheid-era model for optimum living. Over the years and with the failure of apartheid the area and Ponte City became increasingly integrated. Gradually, however, the building deteriorated and by the 1990s it became known as an emblem of crime and urban decay. In 2007, developers bought the building, evicted half the tenants and began a re-development project, which fell apart due to the global financial crisis. Thought the fantasy of a revitalized Ponte City had failed, Subotzky and Waterhouse, who had moved into one of the showroom apartments, decided to remain and explore the layered histories of the place. “Ponte City is emblematic of all of those failures,” says Subotzky, "but I guess it has become something else — a kind of beautiful humanity.”

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Buy the book here.

NICARAGUA 1978 - 2019 (Susan Meiselas)

“When I first went to Nicaragua I never imagined that I’d spend the next 10 years photographing there,” says Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas. Originally published in 1981, Meiselas’s book is a seminal contribution to photojournalism, depicting a nation in turmoil and the evolution of the popular resistance that led to the Sandinista revolution in 1979.


Over the intervening four decades, Meiselas has returned to Nicaragua to visit the sites of her seminal photographs and to document their evolving impact. The continuing project has resulted in the documentary films Voyages (1985), which offers Meiselas' reflections on her personal relationship to the history she witnessed, Pictures from a Revolution (1991), in which she recorded her subjects' testimony and Reframing History (2004), where Meiselas collaborated with local communities to place mural-size images of her photographs in their original sites.


Just before the fortieth anniversary of the revolution, Meiselas reissued the original book with an augmented reality function, bringing a selection of images to life via clips from her documentaries. She this investigates how photographs engage with communities to form collective memories and serve as powerful reminders of complex histories.


Buy the book here.

Read about the project on Susan Meiselas' website here.

TINY, STREETWISE REVISITED (Mary Ellen Mark and Martin Bell 1983 - 2015)

In 1983 photographer Mary Ellen Mark and her husband, documentary filmmaker Martin Bell, began documenting a group of fiercely independent homeless and troubled youth living on the streets of Seattle, including “Tiny” (Erin Blackwell), a 13-year-old prostitute with dreams of a horse farm, diamonds and furs, and a baby of her own. The project resulted in a photo essay for Life Magazine and a documentary called Streetwise, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1984.


In the 30 years following her meeting Tiny, Mark continued to photograph her, creating what became one of Mark’s most significant and long-term projects. In this book, she expands on her classic first edition - at 43, Tiny has ten children and her life has unfolded in unexpected ways, which together speak to issues of poverty, class, race and addiction.


An accompanying documentary by Martin bell, Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, catches up with the main Streetwise kids, concentrating on Tiny and her growing family. The film is also a document of the relationship forged between photographer and subject, and serves as a homage to Mark, who passed away from cancer in 2015.

Buy the book here.

THE ADVENTURES OF GUILLE AND BELLINDA and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams /

THE ADVENTURES OF GUILLE AND BELLINDA and the Illusion of an Everlasting Summer

(Alessandra Sanguinetti, 2010/20)


In1999, while working in the Argentinian countryside, Magnum photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti met two nine-year-old girls named Guillermina and Belinda.Over the next 21 years - and counting - Guille and Belinda have collaborated with Alessandra on the ongoing series ‘The Adventures of Guille and Belinda’, a documentary pageant about time and the change it brings. The series shows the changing relationship between these girls, changes in their relationship to the camera, and changes in the photographer’s relationship to her craft. Ultimately, it shows change in the relationship between these women and the world at large. Sanguinetti pays special attention to the evolution of themes like play and performance, girlhood, love, family, and animals, all mirrored by the landscape and laced with intermittent visions of the future.

Buy the books here.

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