I was reminded recently how much I love the act of landscape re-photography. Curiosity drives people to seek the exact vantage points where landscape photographs were captured in the past. And the BC Archives preserves hundreds of thousands of landscape images of the eras encompassed by photography and pre-photography, as rendered by painters and surveyors. On an exhibits planning road trip to the gold rush town of Barkerville in British Columbia’s Cariboo country, colleagues Kathryn Bridge, Joan Schwartz and I sought out vistas to be compared with their counterparts recorded nearly 150 years ago by colonial-era photographers and artists. Sometimes, I could picture a particular image in my mind’s eye. For greater accuracy, I brought along some reproductions of classic photographs to try and pinpoint the spots where they were made. In the process, we turned some of our assumptions about the original photographs on their heads.
So often, a century of forest growth has totally smothered locations essential to re-photographing 19th century views. For instance, obtaining a specific riverside view of Yale today would require gaining access to private land or felling major trees. Most sections of the Cariboo Road have been obliterated by railway and highway construction. Hell’s Gate on the Fraser has been drastically altered by blasting, yet some striking rock formations remain, above the raging waters, from thousands of years ago and captured forever in early photographs.
There are plenty of opportunities to re-photograph archival photographs of landscapes at Emory Creek, Yale, Lytton, Spences Bridge, Clinton, and numerous other places all along the Cariboo Road. Some spots, like Chasm between Clinton and 70 Mile House remain much the same today as in the 1860s – natural spectacles. Others like the ferry landing at Soda Creek require imagination to try to figure out just where hostelries and mule teams stood before Frederick Dally’s camera; the course of the river has changed, no original buildings remain and the time of year can have a huge effect on water levels.
Here are a few of my informal shots made in September 2013, alongside 1860s wet plate collodion-process photographs by expert photographer Frederick Dally and one watercolour painting of Quesnel by Roland Price Meade, created in the 1860s:
Swipe or tap the images below to compare the past and present images.1 2 1 2 1 2
“Then” and “now” photography, made incredulous in weight loss ads, is a natural outcome of curiosity about what places looked like in the past. It is systematized in initiatives such as the Rocky Mountain Repeat Photography Project, where topographic survey photographs are revisited one hundred years later from precise vantage points. The ablation of glaciers or evolution of fire succession is obvious in many of these views. So is the effect of human activities –road building, seismic exploration, damming of rivers, etc.
Rephotography also manifests itself in efforts to show just how much cityscapes have changed. Urban life through two lenses, a vitual exhibit created by the McCord Museum of Montreal, compares and contrasts contemporary photographs painstakingly created by Andrzej Maciejewski based on the outstanding cityscapes of the Notman Studio, 1863-1918. The McCord’s exhibit shows how Maciejewski rephotographed 34 views using “…the same composition, the same time of year and the same time of day – but a century later.
The City of Vancouver Archives has announced a fabulous project to recreate the panoramic views of W.J. Moore, veteran “Cirkut” camera specialist of the 1910s -1930s, in Through the Lens: Building Vancouver’s History at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. Imagine sitting in the Planetarium watching one of Moore’s 360 degree city views morph into the present day.
The Royal BC Museum BC Archives contains countless landscape photographs taken during the 19th and 20th centuries that are either enormously different or scarcely changed from today. Here are a few that I would challenge you to attempt today and in the future: