This album of photos portrays New York City's far-flung water collection and distribution network. Greenberg provides a catalog of the images that conveys some of the structures' history and stories about how he photographed them. A long, footnoted introduction by Matthew Gandy, also author of an environmental history of New York City called <Concrete and Clay>, adds historical context that I found very helpful.
The elements of the water network pictured vary from natural-looking reservoirs in the Catskills catchment in upstate New York to City Tunnel No. 3, now being built 800 feet below several boroughs. As the Preface and Catalog note, Greenberg learned how this system was built incrementally over a long period of time, beginning with the Croton Aqueduct system's construction in the 1830s. His interest extended over the vast geographic extent of New York City's water supply, more than 2000 square miles of surface water catchment that today funnel 1.3 billion gallons daily to 9 million city residents.
The photos are monochrome, printed medium-dark, which makes them moody; there are no people in them, but doorways and other occasional elements imply scale. Greenberg and Gandy both comment on the integration of these water systems into populated areas where systems of laws regulate how people interact with the water. The laws basically forbid interaction, so it's actually fitting that the images are depopulated. There are not even people shown working on elements under construction, such as Water Tunnel No. 3. In general, the engineers who designed the system and the people who labored physically to build it are absent from the book in image and text.
Portraits of the system's elements, however, are very interesting even without people. Reservoir spillways paved in large blocks of smooth stone, irregularly curved, really do naturalize these enormous, human-made structures into the forested edges of upstate reservoirs. The chunky, stone gate houses look like appropriate wardens, even if the real caretakers are the invisible people who climb out of white pick-up trucks to maintain the equipment inside. Greenberg notes that he completed photography in 2001, months before the terrorist attacks of 9-11 closed off water systems from him.
Gandy's introduction interests me as an historian who's studied Chicago's water supply. Gandy clearly traces the design and construction of the waterworks to politics and social change. His introduction is a big-picture history that refers to the major 20th century histories of water and cities, placing New York City into historical and theoretical context. There is a clear and helpful STS-style analysis that relates disease, politics, financing, ownership, urbanization, sanitation, and culture to the development of the waterworks. Practically absent are what you might call traditional history of science and technology factors in waterworks development, such as advances in the study of hydrology, the size of earth-moving equipment, and eventual computer monitoring that enabled the control of water on ever-increasing scales of volume and geography. A broad array of important factors are described very satisfyingly, just look elsewhere for descriptions of the material basis for creating the science and technology of water control (such as engineers measuring water flow or CCC guys with shovels).
I like this book and am very happy to own it. I look forward very much to reading Gandy's monograph on New York City. I think the maps on page 5 are essential to placing the waterworks into geographic context. An important complement could be schematic diagrams that explain the functional elements of reservoirs and various tunnels so that the reader understands what a spillway is for, a calming basin, gates, etc. I think the strong masses present in the images would be of even greater interest to a reader who understands the physical things that they're meant to accomplish.