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Cities from the Sky: An Aerial Portrait of America

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By Thomas J Campanella. Princeton Architectural Press, 2001. 128pp. £35 Some aerial photographs reduce the world to a distant diagram, writes Andrew Mead ; not so the ones collected in this large-format book which, shot obliquely and often at quite a low altitude, portray urban form with a real immediacy and drama. They were taken by photographers of the Fairchild Aerial Survey Corporation from the 1920s-50s (the '30s predominate), and the 125 examples cover the continent from east to west. All the cities you would expect to find are here, along with such sights as the vast smoking steel mills of Gary, Indiana, and the forest-like oil derricks of Long Beach, California. In one revealing pair of images, the same portion of downtown Los Angeles is shown in 1940 and 1957;

swathes of highways with their intersections dominate the latter. Pictured is the skyline of lower Manhattan in 1928, almost half-a-century before the twin towers of the World Trade Center would reconfigure it.

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