Locative Rephotography

Mary Agnes Krell‘s paper at Postdigital Encounters on her current practice research ‘Nothing That Is Not There’ was really interesting – she mentioned rephotography which is a term I’d not heard before, but is effectively what I’ve been calling crude “augmented reality“: the re-photographing of a space that has been previously photographed from the same position.  Interestingly (in relation to my reflecting on the usefulness of the apparatus theory of the 1970s as a lens through which to think about app-ness) this is a movement that was founded in the ’70s with Mark Klett‘s book Second View, The Rephotographic Survey Project (1977) and his web-based resource Third View which revisits some of the same sites at the turn of this century.  

This online version is useful for thinking about how to create a satisfying interface for the user to navigate between images of the present an the past.  Here, you select a location on an online map and it opens a new window where you can select the 1st, 2nd or 3rd view, or play an automated flash animation which sequences through each image.  When you click on a view a little beeping noise is triggered – not sure what it is supposed to represent, but sounds a bit like the sound on a digital camera when using autofocus. Below is a screen grab looking at the ‘Left view of Silverton, Colorardo‘ with the first image taken circa 1880, the second in 1978 and the third in 1997.  They show civilisation slowly creeping up the valley over the span of a century, but in many ways not that much seems to have changed: 

Screen grab of Third View, Mark Klett

The Montreal McCord Museum’s ‘Urban Life Through Two Lenses‘ uses a dual interface which allows you to see the two time periods side by side:

Screen grab of Mcord Museum's 'Urban Life Through Two Lenses'

There’s also a little “Find errors” game where you have to try and spot anachronous modern buildings which have been photoshopped onto images of the past, there’s a little animation between past and present encircled in red when you click on the erroneous buildings:

Screen grab of 'Find errors' game

I am planning on using video and a slider to dissolve between two still images so the user can either choose to look at a clean image or pause or scroll through the video in the middle of the dissolve to see the images overlaid.  Haven’t really thought about sound (as if you are scrolling back and forth through the image you won’t really want to be scrubbing through the video’s audio), but there’s scope to play audio separately.  This needs more thought as sound is such an important part of the rest of the app.

Camilo José Vergara‘s work captures urban scenes over a period of many years:

Sequence of 4 photographs taken by Camilo José Vergara of Fern Street in N. Camden, NJ from 1979-2004. Clockwise from top left 1979, 1988, 1997, 2004. Images provided for use to illustrate his Wikipedia article by Mr. Vergara upon personal request of Jim Harper on 4/15/06.

Here’s a screen grab from Vergara’s interactive work, Invincible Cities, tagged “A Visual Encyclopedia of the American Ghetto” which uses his archive of images of US cities to create an interactive website:

Screen grab of Invincible Cities, Camilo José Vergara

As you can see above, Invincible Cities utilises a similar map interface to Klett’s Third View, with the addition of a navigable timeline so you can click through year on year to see how a particular location has changed.  As Wikipedia points out: “The advent of sophisticated internet combinations of mapping, visual archiving, and hyperlinking have enabled Vergara to present his work in ways that can combine both the vertical (change over time) and the horizontal (change across space) and link the visual images to texts and databases”.  In his introduction to the website (which is a pilot for a larger project), Vergara talks about his use of photography as “a means of discovery, as a tool with which to clarify visions and construct knowledge about a particular place, or city”. 

Clearly, the practice of rephotography both predates the digital and engages with the project of digitising the archive.  The difference about the kind of crude AR I’m trying to develop is that with portable, mobile media the user or subject can experience the dislocation between then and now whilst in situ at the actual place where the image was taken. I’m using photography to create a moment of experience about/within the location. Maybe somebody should coin the term “locative rephotography” if they haven’t already?  Just stumbled across Locate’n’Reshoot – a student project from Tallinn University, Estonia which uses the idea of using social media to crowd-source rephotography – whilst googling the term to see if it is in currency (doesn’t seem to be but the concept certainly is).  I also just mistyped rephotography as retrophotography, a freudian slip for the photographic nostalgia that much rephotography seems to evoke.


This entry was posted in App-aratus theory, Augmented Reality, rephotography. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Locative Rephotography

  1. Pingback: 2013 Photo Contest & explaining Rephotography | Vaughn Cottage

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