Of time and the city: Urban rephotography and the memory of war
Number of pages
SourceObservatorio, (2015), pp. 111-124
Article / Letter to editor
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Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen (ACW)
SubjectEurope and its Worlds after 1800; Memory, Materiality and Meaning in the Age of Transnationalism
The increasing public interest in the urban past has recently gained expression in a new genre of photography which consists of an old photograph superimposed over a new one in such a way as to capture exactly the same physical setting at a later point in time. The trend is called rephotography and it finds its roots in geographical surveys designed to show changes in an environment. With easy access to image editing software rephotography enjoys great popularity on a wide array of Internet sites. It has the capacity to invest the most mundane locations with a ghostly aura as we recognize corresponding objects in the new photo as evidence of the event shown in the old photo. My goal in this article is twofold. First, I will put forward the notion of indexicality as a performance, rather than merely an ontological quality, to account for these images’ appeal as traces of the past, despite their obvious use of digital manipulation. Second, through two case studies of war-torn cities, Jo Teeuwisse’s rephotography of Cherbourg and Peter Macdiarmid’s project on Arras, I will examine techniques of superimposition and the affective engagements with the urban past that they generate. Finally, I will explore rephotography’s close kinship with the StreetMuseum, an augmented reality application, which matches historic photographs of London with present-day locations providing an embodied experience of the temporal layers of the city.
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