WeAreOCA’s recent post Introducing Miranda reminded me of a photograph that the web editor of Hotshoe magazine took earlier this year. The photograph shows the place where Miranda Gavin’s grandparents were married and are now buried. Miranda’s photograph also shows her newly married grandparents walking out of the church the day of their wedding. This visual paradox is reconciled in Miranda’s image thanks to rephotography.
If there ever was a technique that best demonstrates the ability of photography to conflate time and space it would have to be rephotography. The deceptively mechanical, unimaginative act of taking exactly the same photography that someone else has taken before belies the narrative complexity of rephotographic techniques. Rephotographs are full of pathos, that Greek idea encapsulating feelings,emotions and also death which is easily lost in translation. Miranda took the above photograph, which she posted on the Hotshoe blog, for a web project called Dear Photograph. I found the images on ‘Dear Photograph’ compelling and ever so slightly spooky; there is a phantasmagorical quality to them which triggers a certain fear and visual addiction at the same time.
‘Dear Photograph’ pushes the boundaries of a concept, rephotography, which has always been an effective tool for connecting personal and collective histories separated in time, but not in space. It is also a superb device for illustrating change, particularly that planetary-slow type of change that is beyond our perception of time. David Breashears photographs of melting Himalayan glaciers, a poignant document of environmental change, fulfil that purpose. Breashears’ photographs are currently on display at the Royal Geographical Society, together with other exhibitions which look equally interesting. On a more vernacular note, BBC Scotland has a section on their web site dedicated to rephotography. The BBC invite the public to contribute with their own rephotographs, a superb initiative for materialising and disseminating spacial memories.
The most influential contemporary rephotographer is arguably Mark Klett. His Third View project, following in the footsteps of North American pioneer photographers such as William Henry Jackson or Timothy O’Sullivan, is an exciting rephotography survey of the American landscape. The writer William Fox, an author who regularly works with Klett, provides an informative historical and fieldwork account of the Third View project in View Finder; it is an excellent read. You can see the similarities between the approaches of Miranda Gavin, the ‘Dear Photograph’ collective and Mark Klett in Reconstructing the View, a collaborative project between photographers Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe.
Fancy doing some rephotography? Pick your photographer then. Atget is already taken. Christopher Rauschenberg chose him. Rauschenberg painstakingly retook many of Atget’s images and in doing so he became a true time traveller, a flâneur time traveller to be precise. His book Paris Changing is as full of visual poetry as Atget’s original images. I wonder if Rauschenberg also rephotographed the iconic corset shop; I don’t dare thinking what it could be now…