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Ruins, Reconstruction and Representation: Photography and the City in Postwar Western Europe (1945-58)

ALLBESON, TOM,JAMES (2012) Ruins, Reconstruction and Representation: Photography and the City in Postwar Western Europe (1945-58). Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (Tom Allbeson, PhD thesis) - Accepted Version


This comparative cultural history of urban photography addresses France, Britain and West Germany during the period of reconstruction after the Second World War. It considers images circulating in the public sphere (including books, professional journals, popular magazines and official publications) and examines how the mediation through photography of architecture, urban space and everyday life shaped ways of seeing and thinking about cities in postwar Western Europe.

Analysis focuses on four key fields: ruin photography in commemorative books (1945-49); representations of mass housing projects through architectural photography in the architectural press and official publications (1947-54); urban scenes in photographic magazines (1949-55); and urban photography in UNESCO’s early campaigns regarding human rights and intercultural understanding, as well as images of the institution’s purpose-built headquarters in Paris (1949-58).

Whether of burned-out façades or sunlit concrete tower blocks, the wealth of publicly circulating images cohered in a set of specific discursive formations which, in dynamic and productive relation with one another, offered determinate perspectives on key topics of the reconstruction period. Moreover, in the transition from enmity to unity between the comparator nations which characterised the aftermath of total war and the escalation of the Cold War, the image of the city became a vital component of postwar Western European cultural identity facilitating the expression of important imagined communities, spaces and futures.

Informed by the interdisciplinary field of photography studies, this research offers an interpretive analysis of dominant discursive formations, identifying the perspectives offered by postwar urban photography and excavating its relation to questions of cultural memory and forgetting, to national histories and imagined transnational communities, and to international relations and utopian thinking. It develops an innovative methodology for the interpretation of photography in the writing of cultural history and delivers a comparative historical analysis of a vital aspect of transnational postwar visual culture.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Photography; postwar; reconstruction; urban space; architecture; Western Europe; France; Britain; West Germany; comparative; transnational; cultural history; ruins; housing; photographic magazines; UNESCO
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Modern Languages and Cultures, School of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:13 Sep 2012 11:30

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