September 12, 2010

How The West Has Changed—Or Not

Alternate title for this post: The Trees Are Closing In

Third View revisits the sites of historic western American landscape photographs. The project makes new photographs, keeps a field diary of its travels, and collects materials useful in interpreting the scenes, change and the passage of time.

The Third View project began in 1997 and completed fieldwork in the year 2000. Over the course of four years the project revisited 109 historic landscape sites, all subjects of nineteenth-century American western survey photographs. The project’s "rephotographs" were made from the originals’ vantage points with as much precision as possible. Every attempt was also made to duplicate the original photographs' lighting conditions, both in time of day and year.

Most sites are represented in a series of three views taken at different times. The original photographs were taken by photographers such as Timothy O’Sullivan, William Henry Jackson, John K. Hillers, and William Bell. The photographs were made for the western geological and geographical surveys of the 1860’s and ‘70’s. These surveys were led by Ferdinand V. Hayden, Clarence King, Lt. George Wheeler, and Major John Wesley Powell. The survey photographs were typically the earliest to be made in the American West, and form the baseline of an important visual record. The pictures are benchmarks for monitoring physical changes in the land as well as providing access into the earliest ways land and culture were represented by photography.

The second views, from which our third views were based, were made during the late 1970’s for the Rephotographic Survey Project (please see the book Second View: the Rephotographic Survey Project, Klett, Manchester, and Verburg, the University of New Mexico Press,1984).

Third View was created specifically to investigate changes that have occurred since the landscape sites were last photographed, a time period ranging from twenty to one hundred and thirty years. In most cases there are three photographs at each site, but Third View includes over a dozen sites that had not been rephotographed previously and in those cases there are only two views presented.

Try it, it's fascinating. Via Boing Boing.

1 comment:

Richard Mellott said...

I was glad to see that this project has gone forth, and helped to continue documentation of the evolution of human settlements in the US. The photographs in all three views were of high quality, and definite care has been taken on the website to make it very interactive.
I would be curious to see pictures of downtown areas and suburban areas of those cities that have grown the most approached in the same fashion, to show the encroachment of development.