"Renaissance I," "Renaissance II." If you've lived in Pittsburgh long enough, you know these terms refer to very big changes in the city's skyline. The former brought us Gateway Center, the Civic Arena and the U.S. Steel Building. The latter, PPG Place, One Oxford Centre and 5th Avenue Place.
Some say that the last three years have brought yet another "Renaissance" in which we've seen the addition of the August Wilson Center, Rivers Casino, Consol Energy Center and Three PNC Plaza. Although the idea of calling these latest changes "Renaissance III" is debatable, the significant growth was enough to spur the Heinz Endowments to take notice in 2007 and begin "The Downtown Now Photography Project."
Much like Roy Stryker's mid-century "Pittsburgh Photographic Library Project," which documented "Renaissance I," this project tapped the talents of nine local photographers hired to capture the city in its most recent state of flux.
A new exhibit at Carnegie Museum of Art titled "Picturing the City: Downtown Pittsburgh, 2007-2010" features their work. As visitors will see, Pittsburgh is, indeed, on the rise again.
Organized by Linda Benedict-Jones, curator of photography at Carnegie Museum of Art and artistic advisor for the project, the exhibit features 86 images, narrowed down from the more than 400 that comprise the final archive.
They represent Pittsburgh as it is today, nearly up to this moment. But as contemporary as they are, the exhibit actually begins with a nod to the past.
The first thing visitors will come to is a large panoramic photograph of the city from 1908 by the Detroit Publishing Co., several photographs from around the same time by Lewis Hine and a small but tidy selection of photographs by several photographers that worked for the "Pittsburgh Photographic Library Project," such as Esther Bubley, Harold Corsini and Clyde Hare.
"What we wanted to do in this section was provide a visual reminder of what Pittsburgh was like in the past," Benedict-Jones says. "It's an appetizer in a sense. A little reminder of what the city looked like before."
But where the earlier works focused on Greater Pittsburgh, Benedict-Jones says, "this one was strictly Downtown. It's not all of Pittsburgh. It's strictly Downtown, but they went all over the Downtown area."
For example, Kenneth Neely's "Come Together, 2008" depicts the "sail" portion of the facade of the August Wilson Center as it was being built, before it got its exterior cladding.
In a statement next to the photograph, Neely explains the title: "This end of the August Wilson Center sits where Tenth Street, William Penn Place and Liberty …