History of NYC architecture as seen through a lens
August 12, 2005 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Camera as time machine in NYC In 1939 famed photographer Berenice Abbott published a classic book of New York City images called Changing New York. Some 75 years later photographer Douglas Levere decided to rephotograph the sites, waiting for the weather, season and angle of the sun to match, so that all that differed was the city's evolution. The book presenting the pictures side-by-side was noted here previously. But after it was mentioned on AskMe recently I noticed cool new stuff: 120+ pictures from the book free for the surfing here, and what is apparently its biggest public display to date, at the Museum of the City of New York.
posted by sacre_bleu (27 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks sacre_bleu, this is is excellent. I've seen this done a number of times, but this is a really well-done version.
posted by carter at 12:31 PM on August 12, 2005

"I'm a neighbor."

Sweet thread! I'm definitely going to try and see this in person.
posted by riffola at 12:34 PM on August 12, 2005

This is great, thanks.
posted by brain_drain at 12:35 PM on August 12, 2005

I love that museum. haven't been in a while, this is plenty to bring me back.

thanks for this.
posted by Busithoth at 12:48 PM on August 12, 2005

I only wish the photos were bigger. And what happened here?
posted by crunchland at 12:54 PM on August 12, 2005

From my understanding, Douglas Levere even used the same camera Abbott used. I need to see this exhibit, I've been meaning to for a while now. Thanks for reminding me!
posted by piratebowling at 12:57 PM on August 12, 2005

what happened here?

Looks like that little building (on the right) was built first, and later had those columns and big ... roof thingies ... added on. (That's when we see it through the lens first, on the left, the earlier image.)

Then as it got older, the building was converted back. If you look carefully, the heart of the building is the same. It's just counterintuitive because the simpler version is the new one.
posted by sacre_bleu at 12:59 PM on August 12, 2005

Magnifique! What's amazing is how little has changed in some shots.
posted by languagehat at 1:11 PM on August 12, 2005

This is awesome. It's perfectly surprising in its unsurprisingness: some places look better, some worse, some nearly exactly the same.

By the way: nice work, Zito family.
posted by norm at 1:34 PM on August 12, 2005

It's fun to view these almost stereoscopically, by doing the Magic Eye overlap with them. It really brings out not only the physical differences, but also the photographic ones. I'd say most of the original shots had better composition (softer grays, better contrast), but some of the newer ones are better.
posted by Eideteker at 1:51 PM on August 12, 2005

There's a good book by Stewart Brand (of "Whole Earth Catalog fame), called "How buildings learn" that shows the evolution of many buildings over time.....
posted by centerpunch at 1:52 PM on August 12, 2005

Levere did use an old camera of Abbott's, which a contemporary of Abbot's lent him for the project. The photos are large scale and beautiful; a remarkable comparison. Levere did his homework and took the photos from the same vantage point on the same day of year at the same time of day as Abbott, at least as much as reality would allow. He even hung over the precipice of a downtown skyscraper to get just the right angle.

I work at The Skyscraper Museum downtown where we've had four of these photo sets hanging for the last six months as part of our current (soon to end) exhibition. Abbot's book wa called Changing New York. Levere's new book is New York Changing. The show at the Museum of the City of New York should be great.
posted by pinto at 2:36 PM on August 12, 2005

I too am amazed by the similarities between the two eras. Where I live, if you go back to a location 75 days later nothing is familiar.
posted by Elpoca at 2:45 PM on August 12, 2005

Which reminds me, the post should read 60 years, not 75 (it's still a ways to 2014).
posted by languagehat at 3:32 PM on August 12, 2005

John Fielder did a similar book here in Colorado (Colorado 1870-2000)

Some things change, some things stay the same
posted by jazon at 3:43 PM on August 12, 2005

i like this shows the same trees 70 years older..
posted by pez_LPhiE at 3:56 PM on August 12, 2005

These two photos say it all.
posted by ed at 4:22 PM on August 12, 2005

Ahhh, black and white images can be sooo much nicer. I like the juxtaposition of old and new styles in Gaserteria.

Here's a few more Then & Now galleries: Atlanta; Chicago, San Francisco; Salem (Oregon); Baku (Azerbaijan); Sydney; and others. Besides architecture, the growth of automobiles and trees really stands out.
posted by cenoxo at 6:42 PM on August 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

Beautiful stuff, sacre_bleu. Between this thread, the theatre ephemera one and yes, oddly, the 9/11 tapes thread, all my ancient affection for New York returns once again.

I don't recall the earlier MeFi thread. Re-reading that now, I see others share my obssession to make like a Jack Finney character and actually go back to an earlier New York. I still recall poring over some simple little book my parents had dating to the 30s/early 40s - oh, how exotic yet comforting that Manhattan looked.

Studying some of these NYC images closely, I think I can even see where streets were widened in one or two cases. (In the new Herald Square image the sidewalk seems much smaller.) And in some of the NYC images those must be *new* trees in the same location 60 years later. The original trees would have grown more. [/anal retentive, editor type]

It'd be nice to compare images taken in those same locations 50 or so years *before* Abbott's. And of course, one hopes someday an enterprising photog will do the same again. If I make it to my 90s, perhaps I will.

(btw I see that Abbott produced these photos as part of a WPA project. Ah, those were the days - when the Fed government understood the value of helping even artists go to work. And think of the wonderful, lasting contributions we have because of that program.)
posted by NorthernLite at 6:51 PM on August 12, 2005

Oops, meant to add that the links about other locations look interesting too. Thx to all.
posted by NorthernLite at 6:55 PM on August 12, 2005

thanks for the neat link

I like this one the best.
posted by RosesAreRed at 8:09 PM on August 12, 2005

great link -- thanks, sacre_bleu!
posted by scody at 12:34 AM on August 13, 2005

Oh, man, thanks so much. I lived on this block for six years, up until six weeks ago. Nice to see what the view would have been like, and what it looked like (for the first few years) when I was there. Always been hard to explain what it was like to turn the corner and see the towers *and* the building where I got married, and everything else.

Also cool to check out how much of it is the same.
posted by hackly_fracture at 7:53 AM on August 13, 2005

One thing that's prevalent: more street lights, more stop signs, more stoplights everywhere now than then.
posted by bikerdriver at 7:56 AM on August 13, 2005

Sadly, this one is out of date already.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:29 AM on August 13, 2005

[This is good]
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:01 PM on August 13, 2005

Add Madison to the list of cities with re-photographed projects.
posted by kayjay at 6:11 PM on August 13, 2005

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