© 2018 Hannah Pavlovich

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JACOB A. RIIS: REVEALING NEW YORK'S OTHER HALF
Museum of the City of New York, October 2015, with Studio Joseph, project manager

The Museum of the City of New mounted the first major retrospective of Riis’s photographic work in the United States since World War II. The challenge presented to Studio Joseph was to create an immersive environment in which visitors could understand the context and impact of Riis’ work. As project manager, I was lead designer and construction administrator. Close collaboration with museum staff, the curator, and contractor led to a fully immersed experience in this project.

The design team’s strategy was to incorporate the photos and other artifacts into casework designed with a flexible area for labeling that did not distract from the overall interpretation of the objects. By creating vitrines instead of framing the photos, we presented them for what they really are, not works of art, but careful documents of the human condition. The poignancy of these small images comes through as they are held forward individually on mounts instead of being rarified in framing. In addition, the sepia tones of the photos made them feel very distant to today’s visitor. We used black backgrounds and a rich dark wood color that worked together to give the photos more contrast and less yellow. Visitors react in favor of the design aesthetic and its simple wood frames as a clear metaphoric connection to the spaces where Riis often photographed. The project won an SEGD Merit Award in 2016.

Photography by Thomas Loof.