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Camilo Vergara documents the changing urban landscape

In 1967, Camilo Vergara recorded a dilapidated building in South Bend, Indiana. Vergara believes that the changing nature of buildings can reveal the social history of poor American neighborhoods. Created by Getty Museum.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Camilo Vergara's photographs are part of a long-term project begun in the early 1970s. He documents buildings in poor urban communities in New York, Chicago, Newark, Camden, Los Angeles, and Detroit. - [Camilo] I didn't do what other photographers would have done, which is to concentrate on the people who live in those places, because the people are the least revealing in some ways. Buildings can speak much more eloquently because there's so much more that you can see from the buildings. One of the things that attracted my attention is that there were so many churches. Then, of course, the churches became very important because the churches are such signature buildings there. They allow for the greatest assertion of haste from the people themselves. Almost everything had a chance of becoming a church. Most of them were really storefronts. They're dry cleaners. They're butcher shop, oftentimes the banks. I realized that the buildings had the imprint, not just of the people who live in the neighborhood, but also of time. So in the buildings you could read a little bit about the history of a place. Then later on I got the idea of coming back to the same place. The same Rest Church in Chicago at the first picture taken in 1980 looks like a power station, just two doors. But the second time around, they put some stone siding on the facade. And the sign goes up on the top. And the doors, instead of being two side metal doors, they have a front entrance. So the building's slowly becoming less threatening and a little bit more festive. Much of the interest of this work is the element of surprise. It's what am I going to find next? What is this building going to turn into? What's going to happen in this corner? Who's coming here? And so on.