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To The City: Urban Photographs of the New Deal

Julia L. Foulkes

Publication Year: 2011

In the 1930s and 1940s, as the United States moved from a rural to an urban nation, the pull of the city was irrepressible. It was so strong that even a photographic mission designed to record the essence of rural America could not help but capture the energy of urbanization too. To the City showcases over 100 photographs from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) project along with extracts from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) guidebooks and oral histories, to convey the detail and dimensions of that transformation.

This artfully grouped collection of photographs includes magnificent images by notable photographers Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Gordon Parks, among many others. Foulkes organizes this history of Americana into five themes: Intersection; Traffic; High Life and Low Life; The City in the Country; and Citizens to illuminate the changes in habits, landscapes, and aspirations that the march to cities encompassed.

As the rural past holds symbolic sway and the suburb presents demographic force, the urban portion of our history—why and how cities have been a destination for hope—recedes from view. To the City is a thoughtful, engaging reminder.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

I watched the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center collapse on September 11, 2001, from the rooftop of my apartment building in Brooklyn. While that day remains otherworldly, more subtle changes took place in conversations with friends over the next few months. One packed a bag and planned a route, ready to escape in the event of another attack; another resolutely ignored...

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pp. 1-9

Photographs of the Great Depression fill our repository of images of the American past, giving us a snapshot not only of the material characteristics of that era but of its values as well. Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother,” perhaps the best known picture of the period, combines the fortitude associated with farmers with the pathos of struggle...

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1. Intersection [Includes Photo Gallery]

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pp. 11-32

Contrasts mark a city. Old folks encounter young ones; strangers mix with neighbors; new buildings spring up among old; signs, people, buildings, animals compete for attention; people from different jobs and backgrounds cross paths. The intersections of these contrasting elements provide much of the verve of city life...

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2. Traffic [Includes Photo Gallery]

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pp. 33-54

From aerial photographs to pictures of human encounters, random and intentional, images of intersections reveal the enduring qualities of city life—the diversity and busyness of its streets. The photographs in this chapter compress the intersections at the heart of urban life to their mechanized level. A shooting script by Roy Stryker...

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3. High Life and Low Life [Includes Photo Gallery]

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pp. 55-76

People moved around the city—by cars, buses, trolleys, and subways. Often, this movement took them to work, but perhaps just as often it took them out on the town, to partake of the “High Life and Low Life,” as the American Guide Series volume on San Francisco described that city’s cultural atmosphere. At the end of the subway line...

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4. The City in the Country [Includes Photo Gallery]

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pp. 77-98

Lists of amusements were common in city volumes of the American Guide Series, but even guides to more rural states noted the influence of “culture, in the urban sense,” as South Dakota’s guidebook put it, in the rise of libraries, literary societies, touring dramas, art exhibits, and lectures.1 Boys peer into a nickelodeon at a South Louisiana...

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5. Citizens [Includes Photo Gallery]

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pp. 99-120

Among the aspirations linked to urban life, perhaps none was more captivating than the opportunity for full participation and citizenship. Immigrants from around the world as well as migrants from rural areas, especially African Americans, came to the cities of the United States drawn by this promise (Figure 5.1). A cigar maker...


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pp. 121-125


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pp. 127-128

E-ISBN-13: 9781592139996

Publication Year: 2011