In preparation for the Pecha Kucha and as “proof of concept” I took a number of photographs using the Dear Photograph (DP) format using historic Highline/10th Avenue images. The image shown was sourced from The Friends of the High Line’s website. This experiment raised as many questions as it answered.
The original images used in the DP photographs are historic artifacts. However the images which I’ll be using will in most cases be created by myself since it is unlikely that archives will allow me to take their precious documents out on the streets. Essentially a physical photograph (the historic artifact) has been scanned and uploaded to a website from which I then download the digital image in order to produce a print. Is this process acceptable? Does this very procedure negate the argument I’m making? Perhaps I should see myself as generating a new artifact, another digital image which I will then upload to the URT to be viewed on a monitor. The recursive nature of these many layers of mediation supports the argument for the “thingness” of the original photographs.
Another observation was that the procedure of orienting and combining employed in the DP technique is reminiscent of the map warping exercise we conducted at the New York Public Library which also essentially involves taking an image (a digitized historical map) and orienting it over another, later image (a digital map) such as Open StreetMap.
The trial also raised many aesthetic issues. If the original image is in black and white or sepia should I rephotograph it in the same format or in colour so that it stands out from the background? Perhaps a coloured background serves to enhance my case by highlighting the distance in time and technology from the taking of the original photo.
Do I put a white border on the photograph I print out? This feeds into the concept of the “snap shot aesthetic” which Winograd so clearly rejected. Given that I am generating the artifact to be rephotographed a white border could be interpreted either as ironic commentary or phony historicizing. In addition, the images which work best for the DP technique are tightly framed portraits whereas many of the historic photographs are landscape street scenes. Is it permissible for me to crop the original image to make my point? Probably not. What if I were to include both the original and the cropped photograph on the URT?
There are also technical problems to address for example the thorny issues of focus and stability. Holding a photograph steady in one hand in precise alignment with the background while taking a picture of it with the other is trickier than might be imagined. I found that better results were achieved using a small digital camera with a view-screen than rather than my (much more cumbersome) SLR. This also raised questions about how the original photographs were taken. In the case of DP the images were probably generated using small, consumer cameras whereas many of the historic images seem to be the product of professional equipment and tripods. Once again this choice of equipment feeds into the “snap shot” debate.
Environmental questions include whether I should emulate the lighting and weather conditions, time of day and year when the original image was taken.
Practicality is also a concern. The above image was actually taken from the middle of Tenth Avenue and alignment was only possible by standing in the path of oncoming traffic. In another instance I discovered that none of the buildings shown in the original view now existed and I was unable to gain access to the building which now stood in the location from where the initial photograph was taken in order to match the perspective.
There is also the matter of my presence as “narrator” to be considered. When I insert myself into the image even the clothing or watch I am wearing become subject to interpretation (I had never before noticed how many jackets have logos on the sleeve for example). The safest course is perhaps to ensure that only my hand and fingers appear although in the DP examples even the presence of rings and nail polish contribute to the image’s meaning.
Finally I need to decide which photographs to include in the final map, just the combined image or the original and the present-day location as well. Another possibility is to orient transparent renderings of the images using photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop.