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Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California
Fox Tucson Theatre, then and 2008

Rephotography or repeat photography is the act of photographing the same site twice, with a time lag between the two images; a diachronic, "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.[1]

Rephotography and photogrammetry in the sciences[edit]

Since the 1850s techniques were developed[2] for surveying[3] and scientific study,[4] especially in systems (Paganini, 1880; Deville, 1889; Finsterwalder, 1890)[5] of photogrammetry[6] in which precise measurements made from triangulation of points in numbers of photographic records are made in order to track changes in ecological systems.[7]

Rephotography continues to be used by the scientific world to record incremental or cyclical events (of erosion, or land rehabilitation,[8] or glacier flow[9] for example), or to measure the extent of sand banks in a river, or other phenomena which change slowly over time,[10] and in gathering evidence of climate change.[11][12][13]

In social investigation[edit]

Rephotography has also been a useful diachronic visual method[14] for researchers in sociology and communication to understand social change.[15] Three main approaches are common - photographs of places,[16] participants, or activities, functions, or processes – with scholars examining elements of continuity.[17] 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. Repeat photographs offer "subtle cues about the changing character of social life".[18] 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.

Procedures and techniques[edit]

The accurate rephotographer usually determines several facts before taking a new image.[19] 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 present 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.

Since modern camera lenses differ considerably from older lenses, the rephotographer also has to take into account the area that the lens covers, and the depth of field available.

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.[20] 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.

This type of rephotography can be seen in the McCord Museum of Canadian History's virtual exhibition "Urban Life through Two Lenses".[21] 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; here Levere rephotographed 114 of Berenice Abbott's Changing New York images.[22]

Mobile and computationally assisted digital rephotography[edit]

Smart phones, because they include both cameras and computing,[23] have the potential to simplify the re-photography process. To date, examples of this include "computational rephotography",[24] an approach that uses feature-matching and structure-from-motion to tell a photographer how to move so that the current view best matches the previous view, and "Collaborative Rephotography",[25] which overlays the current view transparently over the original image to allow the photographer to line up elements of the scene before taking the picture. Specific projects include: re.photos, a webportal to create, browse, search, locate, rate, share, and discuss rephotographs;[26] and Retake Melbourne, a crowd-participatory, crowd-funded, mobile app-enabled Deakin University project to rephotograph the fifty-year-old archive of Melbourne (Australia) streetscapes by Mark Strizic.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods Editors Eric Margolis, Luc Pauwels. Publisher SAGE, 2011. Pt. 2 - Ch. 6, 7, 8; Pt. 3 - Ch. 13
  2. ^ Rogers, Garry F., Harold E. Malde, and Raymond M. Turner (1984) Bibliography of Repeat Photography for Evaluating Landscape Change. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.
  3. ^ Wheeler, Arthur (1920) The Application of Photography to the Mapping of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Canadian Alpine Journal, 10: 76–96.
  4. ^ Webb, Robert H & Boyer, Diane E & Turner, Raymond M. (2010). Repeat Photography: Methods and Applications in the Natural Sciences. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  5. ^ Malde, H. E. (1973). "Geologic Benchmarks by Terrestrial Photography". US Geological Survey Journal of Research. 1 (2): 193–206.
  6. ^ Photogrammetry—the art of making measurements using images—is the task of determining an object or its dimensions using photographs. Preliminary work on this problem was done by Lambert in what he referred to as "inverting the perspective" and by Beautemps-Beaupre (1791–1793). In surveying these methods were first tested by A. Laussedat (1852–59). Starting in 1855 I. Porro began developing instruments for photogrammetry. A. Meydenbauer brought architectural photogrammetry to high level. W. Jordan and C. Koppe approached the problem from the standpoint of geodesy, and G. Hauck approached it from a theoretical point of view. Photogrammetry was practiced on a large scale in Italy by L. P. Paganini since 1880 and in Canada by E. Deville since 1889. S. Finsterwalder has been doing aerial photogrammetry from balloons since 1890. C. Pulfrich has been using stereoscopy since 1890. A. Laussedat has collected material on the history of photographic methods and equipment." Finsterwalder, S. (1906) Photogrammetrie. In: Encyklopeidie der Mathematischen Wissenschaften mit Einschluft ihrer Anwendungen. Band VI, Teil1, Geodesie und Geophysik. Leipzig: B.G. Teubner 1906–1925. pp. 98–116.
  7. ^ Harrison, A. E. (1974). "Reoccupying unmarked Camera Stations for Geological Observations". Geology. 2 (9): 469. Bibcode:1974Geo.....2..469H. doi:10.1130/0091-7613(1974)2<469:RUCSFG>2.0.CO;2.
  8. ^ Munro, R. Neil; Deckers, J.; Haile, Mitiku; Grove, A. T.; Poesen, J.; Nyssen, J. (15 September 2008). "Soil landscapes, land cover change and erosion features of the Central Plateau region of Tigrai, Ethiopia: Photo-monitoring with an interval of 30 years". CATENA. 75 (1): 55–64. Bibcode:2008Caten..75...55M. doi:10.1016/j.catena.2008.04.009. S2CID 128566985.
  9. ^ Fagre, D. B. and McKeon, L. A. (2010) 'Documenting disappearing glaciers: Repeat photography at Glacier National Park, Montana, USA', Repeat Photography: Methods and Applications in the Natural Sciences. Covelo, CA: Island Press.
  10. ^ Webb, Robert H. (1996) Grand Canyon, a Century of Change: Rephotography of the 1889–1890 Stanton Expedition. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
  11. ^ Munroe, Jeffrey S. (November 2003). "Estimates of Little Ice Age Climate Inferred through Historical Rephotography, Northern Uinta Mountains, U.S.A". Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research. 35 (4): 489–498. doi:10.1657/1523-0430(2003)035[0489:eoliac]2.0.co;2. ISSN 1523-0430. S2CID 73543439.
  12. ^ Fitzgerald, Nicholas B.; Kirkpatrick, Jamie B.; Scott, Jenny J. (2021-02-23). "Rephotography, permanent plots and remote sensing data provide varying insights on vegetation change on subantarctic Macquarie Island, 1980–2015". Austral Ecology. 46 (5): 762–775. Bibcode:2021AusEc..46..762F. doi:10.1111/aec.13015. ISSN 1442-9985. S2CID 233964014.
  13. ^ Handley, William R. (2019-09-24). "Re-Viewing Western U.S. Rephotography in the Anthropocene". KronoScope. 19 (2): 153–187. doi:10.1163/15685241-12341441. ISSN 1567-715X. S2CID 204523113.
  14. ^ Rose, Gillian (2007). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  15. ^ Prosser, Jon. Researching with Visual Images: Some Guidance Notes and Glossary for Beginners. Economic and Social Research Council's National Centre for Research Methods, The Universities of Manchester and Leeds, July 2006.
  16. ^ Klett, Mark (2011). "Repeat photography in landscape research". In Margolis, E.; Pauwels, L. (eds.). The SAGE handbook of visual research methods. London: Sage. pp. 114–130.
  17. ^ For diverse examples see Framing Time And Place: Repeats & Returns In Photography Conference, University of Plymouth Time and Place Information (2).pdf Framing Time And Place: Repeats & Returns In Photography Conference, University of Plymouth.
  18. ^ Rieger, J. H. (2011). "Rephotography for documenting social change". In Margolis, E.; Pauwels, L. (eds.). The SAGE handbook of visual research methods. London: Sage. pp. 7, 132–149.
  19. ^ Burke, Peter. Eye-witnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence. London: Reaktion Books; Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  20. ^ Klüver, Billy & Cocteau, Jean (1997). A day with Picasso: twenty-four photographs by Jean Cocteau. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  21. ^ "Urban Life through Two Lenses". www.mccord-museum.qc.ca.
  22. ^ Hirsch, Robert J. (2012). Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age (2nd ed.). Amsterdam; London; Boston: Focal Press. p. 221. ISBN 9780240818276. OCLC 761380114. Guided by Berenice Abbott's 1930s portrait of Changing New York (1939), Douglas Levere returned to the same locations at the same time of day and the same time of year, documenting the evolution of the metropolis ... project New York Changing, 1998.
  23. ^ Snavely, Keith N. (2008) Scene Reconstruction and Visualization from Internet Photo Collections. PhD dissertation in computer science & engineering, University of Washington.
  24. ^ Soonmin Bae, Aseem Agarwala, Fredo Durand. "Computational Re-Photography", ACM Transactions on Graphics (Presented at SIGGRAPH Asia 2010), 29(3), pp. 1–24. [1]
  25. ^ "Collaborative rephotography", Ruth West, Abby Halley, Daniel Gordon, Jarlath O'Neil-Dunne, Robert Pless, In ACM SIGGRAPH 2013 Studio Talks, pp. 20, 2013.
  26. ^ Schaffland, A., Vornberger, O., and Heidemann, G. (2019). An Interactive Web Application for the Creation, Organization, and Visualization of Repeat Photographs. Proceedings of the 1st SUMAC Workshop @ ACM Multimedia 2019
  27. ^ Savvides, Lexy (21 May 2013). "Crowdsourced photo project to reconstruct Melbourne". CNET. Retrieved 9 October 2021.

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