On a mild weekend in Ottawa last fall, while scores of tourists walked along the Ottawa River snapping photographs of the imposing parliamentary buildings and joining “Historic Tours” of the city, a host of curators, art historians, photographers, architects, and students assembled at the National Gallery of Canada for a symposium entitled “Photography and Architecture 1839 to the Present Day.” The symposium was held in conjunction with an exhibition at the museum—“Photography and Architecture: 1839-1939”—which was on tour from the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. The camera-toting tourists were a reminder, at least for this writer, of certain basic truths sometimes overlooked: that buildings are clues to civilization; that they show the coherence of a society and relate culture to commerce, politics, and community; and that the way we envision city structures,...


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