Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

After getting inspiration from several courses and a study abroad experience, history major Seth Taylor ’02 (Southbury, Conn.) used a camera and an essay to introduce his fellow Lafayette students to interesting aspects of Easton outside College Hill.

A collection of Taylor’s photography, accompanied by written impressions and the essay, is on display at Skillman Library, highlighting both the visible and less known elements of local city life.

“I am delighted to have this chance to display a student project in the library,” says Diane Shaw, college archivist. “Seth’s project is a very special one that links us to the Easton community in a very positive way.”

Taylor’s interest in urban photography was sparked by his study abroad experience in Seville, Spain during the spring semester of his junior year.

He also became intrigued by issues regarding cities and urban culture the prior semester through Technology and the American Imagination, a course taught by Donald Miller, John Henry MacCracken Professor of History, who introduced him to the work of urban critic Lewis Mumford. Miller’s Lewis Mumford, A Life, the first full-scale biography of Mumford, was named one of the notable books of the year for 1989 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review and was nominated for many awards. Miller, who served five years as Mumford’s literary executor, is also editor of The Lewis Mumford Reader.

Robert Walls, part-time visiting lecturer in American Studies, guided Taylor in an independent study last semester on material culture and its relationship to documentary photography. Walls, who received a Ph.D. in American Studies from Indiana University in 1997, has published in a wide range of journals and books devoted to anthropology, history, and regional folk culture. His research interests are in American forest and environmental history, labor history and ethnography, regional culture of the Pacific Northwest, vernacular architecture, and Native America. He has also written for the general public in newspapers and trade journals such as Christian Science Monitor and American Timberman and Trucker. He also does consulting work for public agencies and museums in the Pacific Northwest and abroad.

In the course, Taylor learned about the history of documentary photography as executed by artists such as Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Edward Curtis, and Walker Evans. The latter photographed Easton and Bethlehem in the 1930s.

“He was inspiring,” says Taylor. “I studied these reform-oriented, social culture photographers. In addition to that, I was studying people like Lewis Mumford, which gave me ideas about the life of the city. I tried to take those ideas and apply them to the city of Easton.”

“He’s studied the material culture of the built environment, the social uses of urban space in streets, alleyways, and parks, the social and cultural significance of those places, and the way that documentary photographs have been used for social purposes,” notes Walls.

The Skillman Library exhibit grew from what originally was to be a smaller project in that course.

“I started with wanting to document downtown Easton,” says Taylor. “I spent a lot of time down there with a few friends to explore Easton and came to really like it. The idea was to introduce downtown Easton to the college community here through pictures.”

Walls spent hours walking in downtown Easton with Taylor last semester.

“We talked about the way Easton relates to built environments of other Northeast cities such as Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Boston,” says Walls. “We talked about the ways people use alleyways and reclaim space in a certain fashion by putting up murals to make areas less dark. Easton is a wonderful learning environment for that, with all of its colonial and industrial history.”

“He was pointing out things that I should take notice of through my camera, like ‘stoop life,’ alleyways, material culture,” says Taylor. “He led me to recognize what was important about a city. He’s so committed to his students.”

“In the beginning, I found myself focusing on the very center of Easton, the center circle,” he adds. “As time went on, I would veer off to little alleyways and explore a little more. For example, I went to a skate park on the South Side.”

Following the independent study’s conclusion, Taylor’s enthusiasm for the project led him to put in a number of non-credit hours this semester. He has continued to receive guidance from Walls.

“Seth sees things to be celebrated in terms of urban renewal and rejuvenation over the past ten years – a renewed interest in reviving the downtown, both commercially and socially,” says Walls. “He’s tried to document that, and he’s done a marvelous job of it. He’s an excellent student, a very good writer and critical thinker, and a darn good photographer.”

Instruction from Walls has been complemented this semester by another American Studies course, Photography in American Culture, a seminar led by Andew Smith, instructor of English.

“That has been a great class that I’ve been able to apply to this project,” says Taylor. “It’s added and reinforced ideas on photography and its significance in our culture and history.”

He also has received assistance from Shaw. “She’s been extremely helpful with the display and also in reading over all of the captions and the writing, offering constructive criticism,” says Taylor.

“Seth could have a promising career in architectural planning or historical preservation ahead of him,” notes Walls. “Aside from studying with me, with what he’s learned from Don Miller in history and Andy Smith in American Studies, Seth is getting a broad base for what he needs in graduate school.”

Taylor does plan to earn an advanced degree in history, but first, he’ll spend time shooting another photo essay in a major city.

For now, Taylor is interning in the archives department of Lou Reda Productions in Easton, America’s leading producer of historical documentary films. In addition, he plays keyboard in Picpockets, a rock band comprised of five Lafayette students that recently played at Porter’s Pub in Easton.

Categorized in: Academic News