Dialogues With History – Rephotography & Photo Elicitation

This weeks lecture examines how photographic practitioners can use historical archives, both institutional and personal, as a springboard for engaging with the people, places and stories of the city. It does this through examining the techniques of repeat photography or rephotography as it is also known by and the technique of photo elicitation.

Berenice Abbott’s work Changing New York for instance, captured for many the city as it was in the 1930’s. Between 1997 and 2003 Douglas Levere photographed the same sites as Abbott did using an 8×10 Century Universal camera like Abbott had. attaching a transparency of Abbott’s image onto his cameras ground glass he achieved the same angle of view. He also photographed at the same time of year and time of day as Abbott had. If the weather was bad he often waited a year before trying again. The resulting work was a classic repeat photography project he entitled New York Changing.The visual dialogue the new body of work creates next to Abbott’s originals reveals how much New York has changed over the sixty years since the initial record was made.

Rephotography comes from the original concept of repeat photography. Repeat photography is a technique that has been used in the natural sciences as far back as the 1880s to monitor changes in the landscape.

Douglas Levere was influenced by Mark Klett’s work Second View: The Rephotography Survey Project. This project from the late 1970’s rephotographed sites initially recorded by William Henry Jackson and Timothy O’Sullivan in the 1860’s & 1870’s. The  Rephotography Survey Project (RSP) did images on over eighty five sites in several states.

In 1997 Klett began the next phase by returning to the same historic sites and undertaking another rephotographic survey entitled Third ViewIn a later work entitled Yosemite in Time: Ice Ages, Tree Clocks, Ghost Rivers he teamed up with Bryon Wolfe to produce a new take on the rephotography approach.

Recently there have been other new takes on the rephotography theme. The Russian photographer Sergey Larenkov takes elements from different historical eras and combines them effect in the same scene to dramatic.