Ryerson Image Centre Book Launch: Documentary in Dispute

When and Where

Monday, March 08, 2021 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Online via Zoom


Sarah M. Miller, art historian, Art and Visual Culture, Mills College, Oakland, California
Gaëlle Morel, RIC Exhibitions Curator


The 1939 publication Changing New York is a landmark of documentary photography, yet no one has seen the book that Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland actually planned and wrote—until now. Join author Sarah M. Miller and RIC Exhibitions Curator Gaëlle Morel for a conversation about Documentary in Dispute, the latest release in the RIC Books series. Their discussion will focus on the process of reconstructing the original manuscript of Changing New York, how it alters the history of documentary photography, and discoveries in the RIC archives that made it possible.

Monday, March 8, 2021
7 pm ET
Register using the Register+ button at the top of this page or via the Documentary in Dispute Book Launch & Conversation Zoom link.

Documentary in Dispute: The Original Manuscript of Changing New York by Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland
y Sarah M. Miller


The recreation of a landmark in 1930s documentary photography.

The 1939 book Changing New York by Berenice Abbott, with text by Elizabeth McCausland, is a landmark of American documentary photography and the career-defining publication by one of modernism's most prominent photographers. Yet no one has ever seen the book that Abbott and McCausland actually planned and wrote. In this book, art historian Sarah M. Miller recreates Abbott and McCausland's original manuscript for Changing New York by sequencing Abbott's one hundred photographs with McCausland's astonishing caption texts. This reconstruction is accompanied by a selection of archival documents that illuminate how the project was developed, and how the original publisher drastically altered it.

Miller analyzes the manuscript and its revisions to unearth Abbott and McCausland's critical engagement with New York City's built environment and their unique theory of documentary photography. The battle over Changing New York, she argues, stemmed from disputes over how Abbott's photographs—and photography more broadly—should shape urban experience on the eve of the futuristic 1939 World's Fair. Ultimately it became a contest over the definition of documentary itself. Gary Van Zante and Julia Van Haaften contribute an essay on Abbott's archive and the partnership with McCausland that shaped their creative collaboration.

Copublished with Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto

To learn more about this publication and review buying options, please visit the RIC Books website.

Contact Information


Ryerson Image Centre, RIC Books