Cities and Photography

February 28, 2013

Author: Jane Tormey
Edition: First
Publisher: Routledge
Pages: 266
Price: £85.00 and £25.99
ISBN: 9780415564397 and 64403

Discussions of both cities and photography have traditionally crossed disciplinary boundaries. Both are characterised by a plurality of perspectives from across the humanities, social sciences and beyond. Jane Tormey sets herself a stiff challenge in trying to navigate these positions and to speak of the relationships between the city and photography in ways that are accessible to a multidisciplinary student audience.

Photographs circulate within and illustrate the spaces of art, fashion and commerce in the city. They are instruments of surveillance, control, management and development used by planners, architects and the police, as well as those of resistance used by protesters and reformers. Further, they are embedded in the routines of everyday life and play increasingly central roles in contemporary popular culture. Tormey succeeds in rising to the challenges that her material sets her. The result is a book that will be of particular interest to urban and cultural geography students.

Geographers’ interest in photographs has moved beyond viewing them as innocent reflections of an external reality and even beyond the more critical perspectives that see them as representations charged with power and meaning. Geographers have developed multiple and increasingly sophisticated relationships with photographs, particularly in their critical work on contemporary urbanism. While there are many discussions of the city that acknowledge the value of visual perspectives, this is the first attempt to provide a systematic and comprehensive overview written specifically for students.

Cities and Photography cuts across a number of disciplinary terrains, but they are ones that students of human geography will be comfortable with. The key theorists discussed include Walter Benjamin, John Berger, Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco and Michel Foucault, all of them names now familiar to geographers. The book opens with a series of chapters offering contextual discussions of photography and urbanism before moving on to consider photographs as artefacts integral to the reproduction of cities, ways of knowing and mediating the urban experience, and as representations of cities. In doing so, its approach matches the sophistication that geographers have come to apply to photography.

What is refreshing about the book is its determination to avoid the more abstract discussions that can characterise some art-historical texts. Here, Tormey’s openness to the work of geographers acts to leaven this tendency. The book is extensively illustrated from photographic projects that are discussed at length within the text. Although many of these sources will be new to geographers, they will help to ground and extend their engagement with the conceptual material. The boxed discussions of key concepts and photographers further open up the material to the student reader.

Although it is not specifically written for geographers, as urban and cultural geography takes an increasingly visual turn, students in the discipline should find plenty of relevance here.

Who is it for?
Second- and third-year students across a range of disciplines, including geography. Postgraduate students will also find it of use.

Extensively illustrated, as befits the material.

Would you recommend it?
Yes, for students who are keen to develop a visually literate take on urban geography.

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