The Photographic City: modernity and the origin of urban photography

by Vladimir Rizov

This paper by Vladimir Rizov examines the relationship between photography and the city, using Charles Marville’s images of modernizing Paris as an illustration. In it, Rizov defines and contextualizes urban, street, and documentary photography as well as their connections to objectivity, access, and surveillance. The author identifies Paris as a “photographic city,” a city that has evolved through Enlightenment ideals and translated the photographic principles of transparency and order to a spatial planning language. Rizov argues that these principles are present in the Parisian built environment through a network of sightlines, uniformity in façade features, and centralised urban planning. The design strategy provides greater ease in administration and policing, which were goals of the city’s modernization. Rizov asserts that Marville’s photographs reinforce the image of Paris as a photographic city. The photographs present a still and unpeopled Paris, accessible and visually ordered by a logic that, as an urban plan, assists and reinforces state power structures.

Vladimir Rizov is an academic in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy, and Criminology at the University of Southampton.
Rizov, Vladimir. “The photographic city: Modernity and the origin of urban photography.” City 23, no. 6 (February 2020): 774-791.
Review by Lindsay Mamchur
August 2020
  • Instagram