Arts
10:41 am
Fri September 23, 2011

Picturing the City: Downtown Pittsburgh, 2007 to 2010

In 2007, the Heinz Endowments sent out a small group of photographers to document what it believed was another Renaissance underway in the city. Over the next three years, nine photographers documented not only the rebirth of the city's buildings, but also the people who inhabit the city.

Thousands of pictures of Downtown Pittsburgh, the Lower Hill District and the North Shore were submitted. Four hundred were eventually chosen for the permanent "Downtown Now Photography Project" being created by the Heinz Endowments. From that collection, Carnegie Museum of Art Curator of Photography Linda Benedict-Jones put together the exhibition "Picturing the City: Downtown Pittsburgh, 2007 to 2010," which opens Friday.

"I tried to make sure that within the exhibition we don't present ourselves as just 'Rah, Rah,' cheerleaders for Pittsburgh…'" said Benedict-Jones, "People will see homelessness, they will see strife, protest."

During the three years that the photographs were being taken, Pittsburgh celebrated a Super Bowl win and a Stanley Cup victory, watched the construction and opening of a new casino, and hosted the G20 Summit.

Pittsburgh is no stranger to the camera lens. Benedict-Jones believes that with the exceptions of New York and San Francisco, Pittsburgh may be the most photographed city in the nation.

"The 'Smoky City' was a really interesting place to photograph because it was visually so compelling, with a lot of narrative story right in the image," said Benedict-Jones.

The first concerted effort to document the city visually was in 1908 when Lewis Hine launched the Pittsburgh Survey. The survey looked at life in and around the steel mills. It was followed in the 1950s by the Pittsburgh Photographic Library, where Roy Stryker led a team of photographers who were brought in to record the city's first renaissance. Other photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White and W. Eugene Smith have famously documented moments in the life of the city. Over the span of his career with the Pittsburgh Courier, Teenie Harris created a treasure trove of images of the Hill District and Downtown.

Several historic photographs are included in the exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art. "One of the things I did find quite interesting is that occasionally there would be a kind of echo between the past and the present," said Benedict-Jones.

New and old panoramic shots of the city's skyline are of course part of the exhibition, but so are pictures of people waiting for a bus in front of a theater, men planting trees in urban parks, and people engaged in protests.

Teenie Harris documented the protests of the 60's and the construction of the Civic Arena, while the photographers involved with this project turned the lens on the construction of the Consol Energy Center and the protests surrounding the G20.

Over the years, Benedict-Jones has spent countless hours looking at old photographs, trying to figure out where they were taken. Curators and historians of the future will not have to worry about that with this collection.

"Every picture they took, they recorded it with their GPS device," said Benedict-Jones. "We know precisely where they were standing when they made these photographs."

The exhibition "Picturing the City: Downtown Pittsburgh, 2007 to 2010" runs through March 25th. All 400 of the pictures chosen for the "Downtown Now Photography Project" will be archived by the Heinz Endowments. The Endowments plans to make those pictures available to the public in the future.