Rephotography involves finding the subject matter or place of an earlier photograph and taking an updated shot today. Usually the earlier photographs are from a significantly earlier period in your life or the existence of your subject matter.
During the Great Depression, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and Resettlement Administration employed photographers to document the problems and programs of the time. The photographers of the project such as Dorthea Lange, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein and John Vachon were some of the greatest photographers of their day and left behind images that have become a part of our history.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s Bill Ganzel relocated many of the people and places that had been photographed for the FSA and Resettlement Administration and photographed them again. His subsequent book, Dust Bowl Descent contained the old photographs along with his new ones providing a visual update from the Great Depression to the 1980s. Along with the photographs he also updated the stories of the people and places.
The United States Geological and Geographic Surveys of the West in the late 1800s included photographers. They photographed areas in the West that later became several of our National Parks. Without the photographs of photographers like W. H. Jackson such parks as Yellowstone would never have been created.
Mark Klett started the Rephotographic Survey project in 1977 to rephotograph the sites from the U. S. Geological and Geographic Surveys of the 1800s. The Rephotographic Survey was meticulous. The photographers took along Polaroid cameras so that they could replicate the exact location and angle of the earlier photographs. Once they got a Polaroid that matched the earlier photograph, they would rephotograph it using more sophisticated cameras. The comparison photos were published in Second View.
Klett repeated the process from 1997 to 2000. He took a third meticulously calculated photograph of the earlier scenes. A collection of the original 1800’s photographs with the Second View photographs were included in the Third View.
These photographs have shown the changes in the landscapes, showing where lakes have shrunk, waterways have changed, prominent features have eroded and civilization has encroached. Heritage Aspen has a wonderful juxtaposition of photographs from W. H. Jackson and John Fielder showing the drastic changes that have happened.
My graduate thesis was a photo journalistic rephotography project of Athens, Ga and Atlanta, Ga using old photographs from the 1880s to 1930s. I photographed the locations and subject matter in the mid 1980s. The differences between the two cities was amazing. Athens had not changed much while Atlanta seemed to have taken Sherman’s slash and burn philosophy to heart, tearing down and rebuilding just about everywhere.
You will find revelations in any rephotography project you might decide to undertake. Whatever the outcome, it will be a photographic journey you won’t forget.
Photo: The Great Postcard Hunt-Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA. Author: Stuart L. Green