In recent years, rephotography has increased in popularity. A rephotographic survey project consists of photographing a landscape or cityscape in its current state and comparing it to old photographs, sometimes dating as far back as the beginning of photography. Rephotography has been utilized for a variety of reasons and the outcome of the photographs corresponds with the purpose or intent of the survey. Some rephotographic projects show social change, typological changes, or infrastructure changes, and are utilized as a way to show before and after or now and then of a given scene. Whether the reason is purely scientific or primarily aesthetic, there is still technical skill, precision, and mastery behind the process.
This rephotography survey project was inspired by past rephotographers and a passion to travel which transformed into a cohesive project featuring photographs of various cities’ architecture. The photographs explore the differences in each work of architecture from an early, historical photograph to its current appearance not by side by side comparisons but through transparent, overlapping images transposed onto each other thus resulting in aesthetic artwork. The buildings, chosen based on location proximity, age of the building, and personal preference are each unique yet display similar themes shared by many of public buildings such as museums or libraries, religious infrastructure, and iconic architecture. The project has resulted in new images from the same vantage points and perspectives as the original photographs while drawing on influences from past photographers to produce near replicas of the original photograph.
The skill of rephotography began in the 1850s. Rephotography developed as a way to survey and act as scientific data. It was not originally created as an artistic process but rather as a scientific one. A process called photogrammetry was used which utilized exact measurements to record variations in ecological environments. These measurements were often taken from aerial views. Even now rephotography is used to record and document variations in the environment and create accurate measurements which provide scientific data on erosion, glacial movement, and other various environmental diversities. While rephotography has a history with scientific purposes, it has since developed into a more interdisciplinary method.
As rephotography has gained in popularity there have been various surveys completed for a variety of purposes. Oregon Main Street: A Rephotographic Survey, published in 1994, examined rephotography as a study of the physical change of environments through time. It states that one of the important aspects of rephotography is to match the photographs in appearance, including perspective and point of view. The series of images can be compared for “urban history, preservation, architectural history, history of technology, city planning, business and social history.” These comparisons are usually evident visually and do not need a written or verbal explanation to validate the comparisons.
Rephotography has a long history. The true master of rephotography is Mark Klett, born in 1952. Klett, originally a geologist, became the master of landscape rephotography. His background in geology combined with his creative mindset launched him into success with multiple rephotography survey projects. He now works as a Professor at Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University. Before working as a professor, he began his rephotographic career on a survey project of governmental environmental photos. Beginning with Second View: The Rephotographic Survey Project in 1984, for which he was one of several collaborators, Klett examined the technical aspects of rephotographing, including the techniques and methodologies of rephotographers. The book displays the 120 sites in the western area of the United States that he and his colleagues rephotographed. The original photographs, which served as government survey photographs, originated in the 1870s. Klett along with his current collaborator, Byron Wolfe, have also completed with the help of a different set of collaborators the Third View project published in 2004 which has been published both as a book and online. The online format provides insight into the changes in technology and contains field notes which act as a journal for the methodology of travel and rephotography. Since then, Klett and Wolfe have collaborated in the making of Reconstructing the View which started in 2007 and was completed in 2011.
Image provided by Places Journal. Left Image: Timothy O'Sullivan, Green River Buttes, 1872 Right Image: Mark Klett and Gordon Bushaw for the Rephotographic Survey Project, Castle Rock, Green River, WY, 1979
Image provided by Places Journal. Left Image: Timothy O'Sullivan, Rock formations, Pyramid Lake, 1867 Middle Image: Mark Klett for the Rephotographic Survey Project, Pyramid Isle, Pyramid Lake, NV, 1979 Right Image: Mark Klett for the Third Views, Second Sights, A Rephotographic Survey of the American West, Pyramid Isle, Pyramid Lake, NV, 2004
Image provided by Klett & Wolfe. Left Overlay: William Bell, 1872. Plateau North of the Colorado River near the Paria. (Courtesy National Archives) Right Overlay: William Bell, 1872. Headlands North of the Colorado River. (Courtesy National Archives) Background Image: Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, 2008. Rock formations on the road to Lee's Ferry, AZ.
Although Klett has completed a rephotographic survey project of San Francisco, most of his work focused on environmental and landscape photographs for his survey projects. He is the master in his field, but there are other photographers focused on more infrastructure and urban rephotography. Camilo José Vergara, born 1944, began his work in the 1970s with rephotographing urban areas in the United States. Unlike Klett, Vergara focused on smaller changes overtime, specifically in areas with economic distress. His study focused more on the social change rather than the environmental change. According to Helena Zinkham, Chief of Prints and Photographs Division of The Library of Congress, Vergara “uses photography to ‘track time’ and makes us look closely at how the urban decay of America’s inner cities changes in small and large ways.” His rephotography may not be as technically exact as Klett’s but it is still as profound and has social significance.
Beside Vergara, there are other photographers who focused solely on architectural or urban rephotography. A great example of architectural rephotography is Douglas Levere, born in 1966, who specializes in advertisement photography in New York. Despite his corporate background, Levere has created a strong body of work, which imitates the photographs of Bernice Abbott. His rephotographic survey project was then published as a book entitled New York Changing in 2004, a play on Abbott’s own book title, Changing New York, published in 1939. Levere’s reference photographs of New York are from Abbott’s 1930s collection and Levere took great effort to emulate her photographs. He shot during the same time, season, and with the same type of camera. He was committed to ensuring absolute similarity.
Levere’s photographs, while beautifully documented in text, do not offer the same interaction as Andrzej Maciejewski’s rephotographs of Montreal which are displayed on an interactive website. Maciejewski, born in 1959 in Poland, rephotographed William Notman’s photographs from the 19th century in 2003. This work was also technically rephotographed with attention to perspective. The website not only displays Notman’s and Maciejewski’s images, it also includes sound and historical facts to aid in the viewer’s understanding of the work. The additional information allows for greater contextualization and allows the viewer to relate to the work.
Photograph Courtesy of Camilo José Vergara via Jim Harper. Top Left: Fern Street in N. Camden, NJ, 1979 Top Right: Fern Street in N. Camden, NJ, 1988 Bottom Right: Fern Street in N. Camden, NJ, 1997 Bottom Left: Fern Street in N. Camden, NJ 2004
Image provided by New York Changing. Left Image: Custom House Statues and New York Produce Exchange, Manhattan, 1936. Right Image: Custom House Statues and New York Produce Exchange, Manhattan, 1997
In more recent years, published in 2010 and written in accordance with the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence guidelines, Soonmin Bae and her colleagues examine the graphic aspects of digital photography in the use of comparison or rephotography. Their article discusses the diverse techniques in manipulating photographs and editing tools to create a precise representation. This article focuses on the procedures following the actual picture taking and provides insights on how to alter the image to match the original. Techniques included and discussed are cropping, repositioning, and perspective warping. In addition in this article, Bae discusses the computational technology that can be utilized while photographing. Her technological invention helps rephotographers, with the use of a computer, to visualize the scene and to guide the rephotographer to the correct perspective. The aim of Bae’s technological procedure is to remove the tediousness of rephotography and eliminate certain errors within the photographs. As she stated the rephotographer only has “six degrees of freedom of 3D translation and rotation,” which allows for a great margin of error. With such a low error margin, even Klett used geometrical techniques and source images placed over his viewfinder to approximate the photograph more accurately.
Without the use of great rephotographic technology, Peter Sramek, another well-known rephotographer, made his mark by rephotographing Paris from photographs made by Eugène Atget and Charles Marville. His published book, Piercing Time: Paris after Marville and Atget 1865-2012, was published in 2013 and displays over 400 photographs between the three photographers, historical maps, essays, and interviews. Sramek’s book was not intended to be primarily aesthetic but to serve as documentation of urban development and illustrate how the use of photographs and representation of urban environments can display one’s attitudes towards the space. The use of photography to document change is extensively utilized today and is even innocently used by inexperienced photographers. The general public often takes before and after photographs of weight loss, appearance changes, home makeovers, etc. As shown through the examination of the history of rephotography, rephotography is not utilized only by artists, but by a variety of professions.
In 2013, even the US Navy utilized rephotography to show the changes that occurred in Pearl Harbor since the Japanese attack of 1941. Diana Quinlan, a Mass Communication Specialist in the Navy, created the photographs by blending the old black and white photographs onto the new images in order to integrate them into the scene. Their emotional appeal not only elicited awe for the photographs but also an appreciation for the skill. Rephotography is a type of photography that is not confined within disciplines; rather it is interdisciplinary and can be utilized for a variety of purposes. It’s not confined within landscapes nor required to show social change. It is neither unique to famous artists nor limited to side by side comparisons.
Image provided by Business Insider. Published in 2013. "The battleship USS California (BB 44) burns in the foreground as the battleship USS Arizona (BB 39) burns in the background after the initial attack on Pearl Harbor."
Research was the groundwork for this project. The research process began with the examination of architectural photography. First examined was a French documentary photographer, Eugène Atget, who focused on Paris architecture in the late 1800s and early 1900s and Albert Levy, a French architectural photographer who photographed in Europe and the United States around the 1870s. These photographers specifically focused on architecture and examining their work provided a better idea of the art and creativity of photographing infrastructure.
Atget and Levy were not examined for their techniques with architectural photography. The technical aspect of the project was demonstrated through rephotography research. These photographers were however studied for their intent and interests in architectural photography. Atget documented the remains of “Old Paris" beginning in 1898. Paris had been transitioning from its essentially medieval character to the modern city that it is today since the mid-1860s, a process known as Haussmannization, and Atget’s photographs served as documentation of the old architecture from the 17th and 18th century that remained within the city. Atget himself had rephotographic interests as he often revisited a site years later to record the changes. His intent was to document a city that was changing and photograph buildings that could be lost forever. He was interested in the purpose of documentation and even rephotographing to document the subtle changes over several years. Atget was also concerned with aesthetics; however, he not did follow the standard pictorialist style of the time, rather he instinctively knew the correct perspective, angle, and composition. The collections of his works suggest his natural ability with the art of documentary photography.
Levy was also a documentary architectural photographer and publisher. His impressiveness derives from the area in which he photographed, or rather the amount of photographs published under his name. As one of the first photographers to document both in Europe and in The United States, Levy photographed in Paris and New York. His extensive work began in 1870s and his photographic collection includes a vast amount of cityscapes and architectural photographs. He also selected newer buildings by well-known architects, which aided in the successfulness of his work. Levy focused on documentary photography at a time when photography was striving to be elevated to fine art. Instead of focusing on aesthetics, his work was created and appreciated for it's objectivity. Yet as Levy’s work is viewed today it difficult to overlook the aesthetics of his images and focuses purely on their documentary value.
Left Image: Provided by Victoria and Albert Museum Church of St Gervais, Paris, Eugène Atget, ca. 1903. Right Image: Provided by: Ryerson and Burnham Libraries Book Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago 261 Claredon and 65 Commonwealth, Albert Levy, ca. 1883
After researching architectural photographers, photographers who have completed a rephotographic survey were researched, such as Peter Sramek, who rephotographed Paris from photographs made by Atget and Charles Marville and compiled them into a book entitled Piercing Time: Paris After Marville and Atget 1865-2012 (2013). Significant contributors to rephotography were deeply studied to understand their intent and process. The work of Mark Klett and his collaborators who compiled their work into the book Second View: The Rephotographic Survey Project (1984) was inspirational to this project as it allowed for deeper knowledge of the technicalities and art of rephotography.
Once a greater understanding of architectural and rephotography was achieved through research, the buildings had to be researched and selected. The buildings were chosen based on location proximity within the city, age of the building, and the amount of historical photographs of the building. The buildings that were chosen also displayed reference to their surroundings to show cultural and aesthetic changes. Personal preference was also a significant factor in selecting the buildings. For example, one building that held personal fondness was selected first, and then other nearby buildings were selected afterwards. Additionally, buildings were chosen on a similar building type, such as museums or libraries, religious infrastructure, and iconic architecture. Once the building was selected, research had to be completed to find old photographs of the building or general area surrounding it.
Image databases such as Artstor and Google Images were a big asset to this project as they served as archives for the photographs. At the beginning of the research process, Google Images was utilized to research old photographs. Once the image was pinpointed through the search, it often required several websites that hosted the image to find the image with the highest quality resolution. While other rephotographers often rephotograph images from the same photographer, it was the aim of my project to obtain a variety of images from different time periods and different artists. While finding the imagery was not extremely difficult, it was pertinent to find images without strict copyrights and determine if there were rights associated with the image.
Once the old photographs were chosen and verified for use, research was required for the location of the buildings or areas. Since this project was completed in big cities, walking and taking public transportation was the easiest and cheapest method. Proximity of the buildings was important and vital to the success of the project as time was limited. Navigation sites such as Google Maps and Map Quest were used to determine the exact location of the buildings. Satellite imagery, such as that found on Google Maps Street View was used to insure the building was not demolished and there were other reference points to help rephotograph the site. While researching the satellite images, there were often times much larger buildings surrounding the building and the perspective of the original photograph would not have been possible with the current state of the surroundings. All of these factors were investigated to insure that every destination would produce results and be a valuable asset to the finished project. Additionally, to save time in the city, maps were utilized to determine the crossroads or navigational points of the original photographer. Most buildings were not photographed at the exact site but blocks away. By researching the area beforehand it allowed for more accuracy and a faster process. Once the location was established as viable, further research continued to find more photographs of the building. Once all the images were collected, a map was created to determine the best possible route and order. This allowed for the best utilization of time and ultimately allowed for the photographing of more locations.
Image provided by Google Maps Street View │ Shows clear view of The Royal London Hospital, London, England
Left Image: Provided by East London Advertiser The Royal London Hospital, London, England, ca. 1890s Right Image: The Royal London Hospital, London, England photographed by Nicole Lashar, May 2015
The photographic research and navigation preparation was just the initial step in the process. Another critical part was arriving at the destination and matching up the buildings. An image approximately 8” x 10” was printed to use as a reference point at the site. The original photograph was held up next to the building or area, as seen in the photograph below, to aid in matching up the perspective. It took several different angles and revisiting the image multiple times to match it up perfectly. Looking at the angles in the reference photograph also aided in aligned the two images. For instance, if the peak of one point of a building was forty-five degrees from another peak, then the same angle would be estimated in the camera. The original location of the photograph, height perspective, and type of lens or camera all played a role in the possibility of lining the photograph up perfectly. At times the desired results were not physically possible based upon equipment or location proximity. In some locations, trees or newer buildings blocked the perspective completely.
The above photograph is an example of the 8" x 10" reference images that were used while rephotographing. MET, New York City, New York
Despite the challenges it was an exciting experience to align the photographs precisely; however, there was not significant disappointment if it was not exact. Klett explains in After the Ruins that a rephotograph is most successful when the “viewers are convinced they are seeing the same place. That is less about technical accuracy than visual verification.” Given that the master of rephotography elevated visual verification above technical accuracy allowed for some leeway while photographing. Even so, the project aimed to be technically accurate. While using a software program, such as the rePhoto app would have been an easier method, the image quality would have been severely lacking and the simplicity of the app would have lessened the experience.
In addition to photographing while in the cities, the experience was also documented through written accounts. These written memoirs included the feeling of seeing the architecture of the first time, the culture surrounding the infrastructure, and/or the changes in the surrounding area noticed at the time of photographing. These experiences were translated into field notes which provide context for the viewer. As the viewer reads through the field notes they will get a sense of the experience and process. It is intended to aid in understanding and make the project more personal rather than strictly academic.
After each city was documented, the photographs were organized into folders with the corresponding original photograph and labeled according to the name of the building or the crossroads where the architecture was photographed. Once all five cities were completed, each photograph was individually edited with the original photograph as reference. The original photograph remained the same while the new rephotograph was altered. Alterations included cropping, stretching, and perspective warping in severe cases. At times the only editing necessary was a bit of cropping to align the photographs perfectly. Once all the photographs were initially edited, they were culled based upon the quality of the final image. If the images did not align well or if the original image was too poor of quality, then the images were not selected for final use in the project. The images were originally edited to be displayed side by side, the old original photograph displayed on the left of the new rephotographed image. However, after overlapping the photographs it was decided that these images best displayed the architecture simultaneously while adding a new aesthetic dynamic that was not present before.
The above image displays the editing process of a rephotographic transparency via Adobe Photoshop │ Mansion House, London, England
The resulting transparent rephotographic images not only display both photographs simultaneously, they also create an entirely new perspective and artwork. The perspective created by combining the photographs allows the viewer to see two time periods simultaneously. The viewer has a new outlook on the space as they see the present colliding with the past. Each viewer, effected by their own perception and prior knowledge, views each image differently, interpreting the knowledge and visuals in their own unique way. The viewer’s preference in imagery may not be determined purely by aesthetics but their perception of the new scene and the story it creates.
At times neither image is dominant; rather they are edited together so that the elements in both photographs have equal representation. In other photographs, they are edited selectively so that certain elements of one or both photographs stand out in the composition. This technique is not formally used in rephotography and has not been used frequently in the field. This type of transparency photograph is more unusual than a side by side comparison and adds an artistic touch to the final product. The original photograph or the new photograph was placed as the first layer in the image, and then the accompanying image was placed directly on top of the first image as a second layer. These layers are aligned by architectural structure and perspective, the transparency of the second layer is reduced to approximately fifty percent so that the first layer is visible. The amount of transparency depends on the lighting, contrast, and visual elements in each photograph.
Some photographs were edited with the transparency technique, but elements on the second layer were erased so the image in the first layer could be better viewed. This was also done to create emphasis on certain elements that reflect the change over time. Another style of photographic editing was a side by side comparison; however, the two photographs transform into a new image. The new rephotographic image is edited to match the style, lighting, and hue of the old photograph. Glancing at the image, the viewer would not initially notice two images in the frame. However, upon closer examination the viewer could begin to recognize differences in time period from the left and right side such as automobiles or the style of clothes people in the scene are wearing. The technique of meshing two photographs side by side was also utilized in a few photographs to combine elements of the photographs into a seamless new image where two eras simultaneously collide.
Example of selective transparency. Original photograph provided by Shorpy Historic Picture Archive Dearborn Street Station, Chicago, Illinois, ca.1910 Rephotograph by Nicole Lashar, Dearborn Street Station, Chicago, Illinois, April 2015
The above image shows two photographs side by side in one cohesive photograph. Left image: Herald Square Building on Broadway and 35th street, Herald Square, New York City, New York, Nicole Lashar, August 2015 Right Image: Provided by Wired New York Herald Square Building and Macy's, Herald Square, New York City, New York, Irving Underhill, July 1941