Dozens of oil derricks in 1930s Long Beach, Calif.; the boardwalk in 1952 Ocean City, N.J.; shot after shot of pre- and postwar Manhattan and environs in Cities from the Sky: An Aerial Portrait of America, Wired contributing writer and urbanist Thomas J. Campanella collects 125 lush duotone photos of spectacular midcentury cityscapes, taken by the Fairchild Aerial Survey Corporation. The foreword by University of Pennsylvania urbanism professor Witold Rybczynski (City Life) extols the photos' humanist virtues, comparing them to Lorenzo's painting of Siena.
The photos in this book are the kind you pore over, there is just so much to see. These 125 are just some of the thousands and thousands taken by the Fairchild Aerial Survey Company from the twenties to the sixties. They are mostly large (very well printed) images of American cities and fortunately the majority are oblique shots rather than taken looking straight down. With the oblique angle you can see the three-dimensional look of buildings and the way a city stretches into the distance. Many of the photos show part of a cities downtown area with the building detail and traffic clearly visible.
Author Campanella writes a short history of the Fairchild company and its founder Sherman Fairchild. An amazing man who ran a company that designed cameras, aircraft, navigational aids, engines, optical equipment and into the sixties he encouraged the development of the electronic age.
The book is a good opportunity to see why American cities look the way they do. Page ninety-five shows Tucumcari, New Mexico, in 1940, though not a big place yet the grid pattern of blocks has been established and roads built for future houses, yet the town is not at right-angles to Route 66 which passes through one side. Pages 112 and 113 show the same shots of downtown Los Angeles taken in 1940 and 1957, the latter now has the Harbor Freeway just over a block wide running through it..
As you would expect all the photos are very clear as they were used by local government and other concerns. Not many were taken of cities in the Pacific Northwest due to atmospheric conditions. Bright sunny days caused problems too, buildings created really dark shadows that obscured detail.Read more ›
It's a risky business buying a book based on a few page-scans and a short description, but I'm glad I took a chance on this one. Well, mostly! The book is great -- well designed, well printed, detailed photographs, interesting topic, really nice coffee-table book -- but I can't say the same for my own copy. The first copy I received had a torn page. No major problem considering Amazon's customer-friendly returns policy. But the replacement copy was even worse -- pages stuck together (which I had to cut apart), poorly-fitting dust jacket, and poorly packaged, resulting in some cover abrasion, especially not desired on a book such as this. I hope you're luckier with your copy! 5-star book, 1-star ...