‘Repeat photography, which involves re-photographing a location from the same vantage point, has become a common method to document the changes occurring in the landscape’ (McManus, 2011).
McManus goes on to write: ‘Artists, ecologists, geologists and anthropologists alike have employed this practice. What unites these disciplines across great ideological and cultural distances is their understanding of photography as a truthful witness to the passage of time.’
As a technique, repeat photography is widely used in the natural sciences to compare images of the same scene. Separated by time, independently the images provide data, together they provide information.
Images are evidence of a change having taken place, a before and after. Whilst by themselves they offer no full explanation for a particular change, the collection and interpretation of empirical, contextual data can subsequently identify the cause of that change.
Repeat photography, then, provides a starting point from which further investigations can be conducted.
Consequently, it is no surprise that rephotography is also an established research method within visual anthropology and Reiger (2011) writes accordingly: ‘perhaps the most reliable way we can use photography to study social change is through the systematic visual measurement technique of ‘repeat photography’ or, simply, ‘rephotography’.’
He continues ‘more frequently, though, we are likely to use repeat photographs to study change in a qualitative way. We will be looking for obvious or subtle clues about the changing character of social life’.
I find repeat photography an interesting area for research. Previously I revisited an image from my early days in food photography: the early image being purposefully chosen to allow me to compare images with the greatest possible time lapse.
At the time, I wrote:
‘I think revisiting images of food differs from the revisiting of other subjects because of the highly ephemeral nature of food: there are no fixed co-ordinates to which a food photographer can return in one or two years’ time. Consequently, because the original subject, for me, no longer exists, the real value in this exercise was in appreciating how my photographic practice has developed over time.’
I still believe this to be a robust statement.
Rephotography, to me, has significant value as a tool for evaluating my past and current work – for understanding what my work has been, and what it might become: a means of seeing how my technique has become refined over time. Indeed, repainting an old and familiar subject again and again is an established technique used by artists to improve their technical skills and enhance their ability to see detail.
As my interest in visual anthropology increases, I become more interested in way that I can use rephotography. For example, my current project, Cravings, looks at the struggle for an athlete in preparation for competition to maintain a strict ‘clean’ diet, and the desire to consume ‘comfort’ foods as the body depletes stores of fat to fuel the training
How can I, for example, use rephotography to record trends regarding the food we eat? And changes in the way we eat? How fast do food trends come and go? What are the conflicts that surround a particular food trend? Culturally, what will be most interesting for future generations to observe with regard to the way we eat today? Are some things less important to record, or will they all be of equal of equal importance to future generations? How does one decide now, for the future? By deciding am I transferring my own views onto how my images will be viewed, and interpreted, in the future? How does one record in an objective, and unbiased manner?
See also: Repeat Photography & Rephotography
McManus, Karla (2011) “Objective Landscapes: The Mediated Evidence of Repeat Photography.” Intermediality 17: 105–118 [Online]. Available at: https://www.erudit.org/en/journals/im/2011-n17-im1817262/1005751ar.pdf (Accessed: Sunday 03 September 2017)
Reiger, Jon H. (2011) ‘Rephotography for Documenting Social Change’ in Margolis, Eric and Pauwels, Luc (ed.) The SAGE Handbook of Visual Research Methods, London: SAGE Publications Limited, p. 133
Tinkler, Penny (2013) Using Photographs in Social and Historical Research, London: SAGE Publications Limited