The opening of module two introduced the practice of repeat photography – ‘rephotography’. This practice of carefully reproducing previously captured images opens up new avenues of investigation that are not available to a single, isolated image. Repeat photography places both images in a different context and invites the viewer to consider what might exist in the space between them, an uncharted region of time and cultural shift to which the pair of images can possibly provide some clues, but often little more. The potential applications for rephotography are numerous, ranging from quantitative scientific examination to sociological commentary, while others simply find it an enjoyable thing to compare images from past and present for its own sake.
The work this week challenged me to consider how rephotography might be relevant to me and my own practice, and looking forward, whether there might be an application for it in the project I’m working towards in this MA. It’s a difficult question to answer comprehensively at this point, particularly as I have no personal experience of repeat photography. There are however aspects of the practice that may be of relevance to the work I hope to produce or the way in which I hope to examine the experience of urban solitude.
The act of repeating a photograph seems to me to take the image beyond its original boundaries and opens up possibilities for communicating context and information and provoking inquiry that is simply not possible with a single image. One of the challenges I have been continuously concerned with when plotting the course of my project, is how to articulate the vast and varied differences in the way people experience being alone in the urban environment. Instinctively it felt that straight photographs were not going to be adequate to do this subject real justice and my concession to this in my proposal was the addition of creative writing to allow myself and other people involved in the project (e.g. interviewees) to find different ways to articulate aspects of their experience which would later inform the process of image-making.
Repeat photography potentially offers another tool to explore this subject, offering as it does a manageable way to comment on large periods of time and on big issues that might be too much of a mouthful for one photograph to declare. It would, for example, certainly lend itself to telling a story of absence in the urban environment (if that were the story I was trying to tell). There is also the potential to use the single frame of reference to tell the story in a different way. If I shoot one place repeatedly, rather than lots of different places only once (as currently), how does that change the angle from which the story of urban solitude might be told?
This week’s work has once again challenged me to consider more carefully how the work might eventually be presented to an audience. In The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods (2011: 130) one of the most prominent advocates and exponents of rephotography, Mark Klett, wrote:
‘Interactive approaches using digital technologies enable seemingly incompatible types and formats of data to be collected and used together. Organizing this material presents a new challenge that accentuates content over media type, and emphasizes the experience of the work as a way to discover the work’s content. If done well the results can add layers of meaning and accessibility to photographs, extending their audience and reaching across disciplines. Then the old problem that photographs alone cannot explain their histories has found a new solution.‘
Klett raises the tantalising possibility of offering an ‘experience’ to the viewer that adds meaning and potentially appeals to a wider audience. There’s obviously much to unpack there, but the desire for the work to be experienced rather than just seen certainly resonates with me and rephotography may offer a way to engage in a wider dialogue with others about how they experience solitude in the urban environment, in a way that I’d originally proposed to do using workshops and questionnaires. I hope to test this on a small scale with a mini-project, to see if there might be a wider application moving forward and will report back with my progress in due course.
Klett, M. (2011) 'Repeat Photography in Landscape Research', in Margolis, EM. and Pauwels, L. (ed.) The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods, London: SAGE.
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