The Life and Death of Buildings


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On Photography and Time

Joel Smith

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Buildings inhabit and symbolize time, giving form to history and making public space an index of the past. Photographs are made of time; they are literally projections of past states of their subjects. This visually striking meditation on architecture in photography explores the intersection between these two ways of embodying the past. Photographs of buildings, Joel Smith argues, are simultaneously the agents, vehicles, and cargo of social memory. 

In The Life and Death of Buildings  photographers as canonical as Bernd and Hilla Becher, Laura Gilpin, Lewis W. Hine, and William Henry Fox Talbot enter into visual dialogue with amateurs, architects, propagandists, and insurance adjusters. Rather than examine photographers' aims in isolation, Smith considers how their 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 coauthored by history, growing layers of meaning to which its maker had no access.

Distributed for the Princeton University Art Museum

Exhibition Schedule:

Princeton University Art Museum

Joel Smith is the Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at the Princeton University Art Museum. His previous publications include Edward Steichen: The Early Years and Saul Steinberg: Illuminations.


Princeton University Art Museum

“This thought-provoking book, like the photographs it features, invites multiple readings . . . Smith writes with poetic precision.”—Publishers Weekly
ISBN: 9780300174359
Publication Date: August 30, 2011
Publishing Partner: Distributed for the Princeton University Art Museum
104 pages, 8 1/2 x 8 1/2
99 color illus.
More than One

Photographs in Sequence

Edited by Joel Smith; With essays by Peter Barberie, Kelly

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