Sunday, July 20, 2008

Weekend Wonder #10 Fieldwork

Hello again. I wanted to do something a little different for this Weekend Wonder. I've mentioned a number of times in the last few months that I was spending the day outside doing fieldwork. Well, as a preservationist, I'm a theory and policy specialist. Knowing that, you might wonder what my fieldwork is.

Once upon a time it was outreach and legal consulting, but I've been involving myself in interpretation more and more over the last few years - the process and theory of how we convey history or heritage to the public. A project that evolved out of that - I'll spare you the long details - is the work I've been doing this year with the help of a great photographer, my research assistant. Our focus is on how the use of repeat photography can be a tool for interpreting urban change.

First, we spent weeks in various archives trying to find the best photographs - those that were old enough to be interesting, best situated to be retaken, and most likely to either show interesting change or an interesting lack of change. An example is this photograph taken early in the twentieth century from a major park in Charleston, Marion Square.

From left to right you can see a hotel, the statue of John C. Calhoun, row houses, especially an elaborate house that is taller with the Classical cupola of the orphanage behind it, and one of the tall steeple churches Charleston is known for.

Second, after we picked out these pictures, we went out and tried to rephotograph them as accurately as possible using transparent overlays and all kinds of little tricks. About one in three was unrepeatable. For example, there are a couple beautiful panoramic shots of this square that were taken from a distance. Where those photographers stood is now inside a building. Fortunately, this one was one we could retake, but not one of our most accurate. Here's the new shot:

You might not notice if I didn't point it out, but the statue and hotel, now substantially blocked by trees, aren't in the exact same vertical alignment. We could figure out fairly precisely where the photographer stood, but the park has been relandscaped many times. All you would see if we took that shot would be trees. Our solution was to move about fifteen feet closer. It captures the significant and less obvious changes. All of the houses are gone, as is the orphanage. They've been replaced by that parking garage and college buildings respectively. The church still stands, but its polychromatic stucco has been replaced with a single darker color. In combination with the white trim, it really changed the look of the steeple.

We have over twenty pairs like this, as well as a handful of shots that we retook much more casually because the change and demolition was so complete, there's nothing left to line up on. Some of the shots are wonderful, but some are slightly off because of a difference in camera equipment or because of new construction that prevented us from retaking from the exact right location. Now that our camera work is done, it's my turn to take over as the writer.

And that's my Weekend Wonder! On that note, I'll be back soon with another post about the new computer mitt I just crocheted after I take some pictures. Have a good week!

1 comment:

Knitting Linguist said...

What an amazing project; it's fascinating to see the pair of photos and to get a sense of how much has changed (and how much hasn't!). Thanks so much for sharing this.