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Retaking photographs

© Miranda Gavin 2011

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.
© Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe 2008 / William Bell 1872

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…

Posted by author: Jose
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10 thoughts on “Retaking photographs

  • I seem to recall hearing of a project in Berlin that involved projecting pre war images of the inhabitants of various buildings on those buildings now. I cannot fond links to it nor remember the name of the artist.

  • Some fascinating links and pretty damning evidence for global warming looking at Breashears work. Time lapse photography does seem to arouse a curiosity in us all, perhaps reminding us of our own temporary existence, yet strangely it offers a kind of permanence too. I find it intriguing. I can think of a good few artists and poets for the Lakes…not sure this would quite fall in to ‘rephotography’ though, repoetography or reartography perhaps.
    Jessica Hines has also used this type of approach in ‘My Brothers War’. She used rephotography techniques when visiting locations in Vietnam where her late brother was stationed when he was with the US Army. She has also photographed paperwork, letters and mementoes to similar effect. It is a fascinating project both in subject matter and how its skips from past to present.
    Certainly food for thought, thank you Jose.

  • Thanks for the link Penny. It’s interesting how Jessica Hines names her projects. Many of them are called ‘— Stories’, in a clear reference to the storytelling nature of her photography.

    • If you get hold of a copy of John Taylor’s excelent “A Dream of England” There is a section on Lacock and the “Celebration of Photography” held in 1989 (I think). This discussion is accompanied by some of Martin Parr’s photographs of the event.

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