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Rephotography is the act of repeat photography of the same site, with a time lag between the two images; a "then and now" view of a particular area. Some are casual, usually taken from the same view point but without regard to season, lens coverage or framing. Some are very precise and involve a careful study of the original image. Long a technique for scientific study, especially of changing ecological systems, it became formalized as a form of photographic documentary in the middle 1970s. The founding work in this style was the Rephotographic Survey project, conceived in 1977 by the project's chief photographer, Mark Klett. This project engaged 120 sites of government survey photographs from the American West first recorded in the 1870s. The resulting book, Second View, The Rephotographic Survey Project, included precise rephotographs of the same locations 100 years later along with an essay by Klett on the methodology and problems encountered with rephotography. Klett revisited these sites a third time for his 2005 book Third View with a new team of photographers including Byron Wolfe, Michael Marshall and Toshi Ueshina. The acknowledged master of urban rephotography is generally agreed to be Camilo José Vergara, who has worked since the 1970s in most of the major urban centers of the United States. Unlike the Rephotographic Survey, which recorded dramatic changes over approximately a century, Vergara's pictures record often small, incremental changes: the abandonment and adaptive reuse of housing project sites, changes in use of buildings and sites as sociological and economic conditions change.
The accurate rephotographer usually determines several facts before taking a new image. An important starting point is the choice of the older image. To show continuity between the two images, rephotographers usually include in the frame a building or other object which is still there in the modern view. Some urban scenes change so much that the original buildings shown have been completely obscured by subsequent skyscrapers, or have been demolished. A "then and now" photograph could be taken but there would be nothing in common to link the two images.
The vantage point from which the original photographer took the view may have disappeared over the years, so the rephotographer has to choose an original view for which the vantage point is still accessible, or arrange to rent equipment to duplicate the original position of the camera.
Through scrutiny of the original image, the rephotographer determines the season and the time of day from observation of the vegetation and the shadows shown in the original view. The best way to do this is to set up a camera at the original viewpoint, at approximately the right season and time, and wait with the original view in hand, until the shadows reach the same positions relative to surrounding objects. If done with extreme accuracy it should be possible to place one image over the other, and see the edges of buildings match exactly. A good example of this type of rephotography can be seen in the McCord Museum of Canadian History's virtual exhibition "Urban Life through Two Lenses." It shows the nineteenth century views of Montreal by William Notman, rephotographed by Andrzej Maciejewski in 2002. Another is Douglas Levere's project, "New York Changing", has recently been published. Here Levere rephotographed 114 of Berenice Abbott's, "Changing New York" images.
Rephotography is often used by the scientific world to record the effects of erosion over time, or to measure the extent of sand banks in a river, or other phenomena which change slowly over time.
Rephotography has also been a useful visual method for researchers in sociology and communication to understand social change. Three main approaches are common - photographs of places, participants, or activities, functions, or processes – with scholars examining elements of continuity. This method is advantageous to studying social change due to the capacity of cameras to record scenes with greater completeness and speed, to document detailed complexities at a single time, and to capture images in an unobtrusive manner. Repeating photographs offer "subtle cues about the changing character of social life" (Reiger, 1996, p. 7). Upon analysis of elements of continuity within the images, researchers must be cautious to not make erroneous interpretations of change. Another closely related use of rephotography has been the political one made by Gustavo Germano in Argentina, who rephotographed family pictures of disappeared, thus making explicit both the missing people and the life that goes on.
- The Great Postcard Hunt, 2006.
- Peter B. Hales,“Landscape and Documentary: Questions of Rephotography,” Afterimage, Summer, 1987, pp. 10–14
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Rephotography|
- Alpine of the Americas Project - Citizen science rephotography of alpine glaciers and ecosystems
- Tampa Changing - Rephotographs of Tampa, Florida
- Second View - Rephotographic Survey Project
- Urban Life through Two Lenses — Virtual Exhibition
- New York Changing - Douglas Levere Revisits Berenice Abbott's New York
- Third View - A Rephotographic Survey of the American West
- Atlanta Time Machine - Huge collection from Atlanta
- Springfield Rewind - Rephotographs of Springfield, Illinois
- Vertigo Then and Now - photographs of San Francisco. The source of the earlier photos is scenes from Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 thriller Vertigo.
- Hidden Glasgow rephotography in Scotland's biggest city
- Port Townsend Then and Now - A collection of Rephotographs from Port Townsend, WA.
- InTwinPeaks.com Rephotography of theTwin Peaks filming locations, then and now
- Ausencias by Gustavo Germano Rephotography of disappeared in Argentina (then, alive and now, missing)
- Recollecting Landscapes - Rephotography of 60 landscapes in Belgium 1904-1980-2004
- Blitz Ghosts - Rephotography of the Norwich Blitz 1942 - 2011 - present