My working life changed abruptly when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in late summer 2005. At the time I was primarily a fine-art photographer and educator, teaching a new class at the University of Pennsylvania called "The Photography of Urban Place," and working on a book about Main Streets. I was photographing in American towns, using film and a monorail view camera, making prints in the color darkroom back home in Philadelphia. I traveled a lot.

I was also the part-time editor of the SmartCode, a model design and development code for towns and cities that is based on smart growth and new urbanist principles. I was drawn to it because I could visualize the kinds of places it was meant to protect and create, having spent half a lifetime photographing them. This geeky work, far from the art world, became another way to honor my subject matter.

Because of my work on the SmartCode with its authors, Andrés Duany and DPZ, I was invited to head the Codes Team at the Mississippi Renewal Forum, a week-long planning charrette organized by Duany and the Congress for the New Urbanism with efficient urgency six weeks after Katrina. Many smaller charrettes followed, and suddenly I was a full-time code writer and planner, and teacher of coding workshops. This work took me far beyond the Gulf Coast, to at least twenty American cities and five countries.

Around 2010, that stormy path began coming back to meet the older path. While out on the road finishing the Main Streets project, I was also shooting with digital cameras for the purpose of urban analysis. The result of the latter work can be found at the new Transect Collection image bank. It is intended to help those working on the art of planning the built environment, protecting local architectural character, and promoting walkable urbanism.

The site you are on now, however, is for more personal work. It is about the layers of civilization found where the built environment is overlaid on, and reshaping, the natural environment.  The four galleries are Main Streets, Rowing the Schuylkill, Along the Banks, and Falling Waters. The last gallery is most current, 2015-16, as I launch a lengthy search for the remnant infrastructure at all 32 dam sites of the 19th century Schuylkill Navigation system in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I came to this subject after rowing on the slackwater pools created by two of the remaining dams, photographing from my boat, and exploring the 130-mile extent of the river's banks on land. Now I work as a watershed educator at the Fairmount Water Works (FWW), the education arm of Philadelphia Water. I specialize in water quality research and education based around the towns, parklands, and infrastructure upriver from my home near the Manayunk Canal and Dam #31, Flat Rock.

Sandy Sorlien
Philadelphia PA