A portal into the past
July 30, 2010 8:02 AM   Subscribe

This is what it looked like then... Russian photographer Sergey Larenkov takes old WWII photos and go to exactly the same place it was taken, then combines the two. Some of my favorites
posted by ShawnString (52 comments total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
oh forgot via
posted by ShawnString at 8:03 AM on July 30, 2010

I've (luckily) never seen that done before - breathtaking stuff.
Thank you.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:08 AM on July 30, 2010

Amazing. thanks for posting.

Similar, but different: New York Changing, in which Douglas Levere revisits Berenice Abbott's NYC cityscapes.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:08 AM on July 30, 2010

I have seen ones like that but I liked the juxtaposition of the war settings vs the oh its modern Germany/Russia.
posted by ShawnString at 8:10 AM on July 30, 2010

Can someone who knows Russian or WWII history tell me what the heck this is?
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:11 AM on July 30, 2010

MrMooPie, it looks like a barrage balloon to me
posted by 13twelve at 8:12 AM on July 30, 2010

Can someone who knows Russian or WWII history tell me what the heck this is?

barrage balloon
posted by JPD at 8:13 AM on July 30, 2010

Dammit we can't get caught out on the wrong side of a sausage gap with the Ruskies.
posted by Babblesort at 8:14 AM on July 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

A neat idea, but I actually find it more affecting to show the images side by side.
posted by DU at 8:15 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's a flickr group dedicated to doing this (with simply old photos, not necessarily wwII).
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:15 AM on July 30, 2010

This is completely amazing and takes my breath away. It's like seeing the past come alive, reminding me of things done in the very space one occupies.
posted by nomadicink at 8:18 AM on July 30, 2010

I really enjoyed these, thanks.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 8:18 AM on July 30, 2010

Hauntingly beautiful. I loved it.
posted by fermezporte at 8:21 AM on July 30, 2010

Fantastic. It's probably as close as we're likely to get to photographing ghosts. It's good to be reminded that the spaces we occupy have been occupied by others, some of whom may actually have been involved in their own tiny pieces of momentous events.
posted by valkyryn at 8:27 AM on July 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

This is my kind of pr0n.
posted by punkfloyd at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2010

OK. That's a barrage balloon.

What's a barrage balloon?
A barrage balloon is a large balloon tethered with metal cables, used to defend against low-level attack by aircraft by damaging the aircraft on collision with the cables, or at least making the attacker's approach more difficult. Some versions carried small explosive charges that would be pulled up against the aircraft to ensure its destruction. Barrage balloons were regularly employed only against low-flying aircraft, the weight of a longer cable making them impracticable for higher altitudes.
posted by notyou at 8:32 AM on July 30, 2010

Oh my god I'm dying. I ... I can't believe I never thought of doing this before. This is astounding. I know from experience [self-link] how hard it can be to match your photograph to an existing one. Exact location, perfect angle, same lens - even the difference in height in the two photographers can throw things off. Sergey either has incredible patience in lining up a shot or a good grasp of what parts of the pictures to show to make things match up. Or, you know, good skill in post-production.

Still, regardless of all the technical, it's still awesome just to look at. I agree completely with valkyryn's comment about ghosts come to life. Man.
posted by komara at 8:34 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is worth it just for learning about barrage balloons.
posted by swift at 8:48 AM on July 30, 2010

Incredibly moving - thank you!
posted by speug at 8:48 AM on July 30, 2010

There was a similar set of photos of Leningrad/St. Petersburg at the time of the Siege and now at EnglishRussia.com

posted by briank at 8:58 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

briank, those are by the same guy.
posted by ShawnString at 9:02 AM on July 30, 2010

This is among the most amazing things I've ever seen.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:04 AM on July 30, 2010

It's simply impossible to believe, on a gut level, that I have stood on the exact spot where this young man was standing. These are truly amazing - thank you for sharing them!

Sort of related: the Warsaw Uprising Museum has produced a digitally-reconstructed flyover - they claim it's the world's first - of completely destroyed, post-uprising/deportation/evacuation Warsaw which will premier in August at the museum; trailer at this link (click "zobacz zwiastun").
posted by mdonley at 9:04 AM on July 30, 2010

That just blew me away! It follows nicely from yesterday's longest exposures FPP.

I'm now imagining that some of these would look really great in a documentary if the effect was animated on/off across in waves or as spotlights of various shapes. It would be sort of a meta-Ken Burns effect.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:11 AM on July 30, 2010

I've seen lots of then and now photos but I think by joining them you get a more visceral sense of the connection between past and present. Particularly in the "favorites" link, I like the way the people who are waiting to cross the street are completely oblivious to the dead bodies laying right next to them (50 years ago). It's a nice commentary on how people forget and places heal and also a reminder not to let it happen again.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:11 AM on July 30, 2010 [8 favorites]

A local website uses this same technique to show how certain Toronto spots have evolved over time.

The technique is impressive, but for some reason I don't enjoy it very much. I guess I have a hard time processing the combined image. When they are meshed together, I can't appreciate either the before or the after.

I seem to prefer before and after shots put next to each other for comparison. Too bad.
posted by dry white toast at 9:31 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

These are absolutely fantastic. Thanks for posting.
posted by xbonesgt at 9:35 AM on July 30, 2010

Amazing stuff! Thanks for posting it!
posted by jquinby at 9:43 AM on July 30, 2010

Best of the web. Thank you so much for the post.

A neat idea, but I actually find it more affecting to show the images side by side.

DU - can you explain why? What I find most affecting about these (this one in particular) is the eerie sense of walking through history--a modern pedestrian is about to walk "through," in a sense, corpses from the war. I find that haunting and creepy and beautiful and breathtaking all at the same time. What appeals to you, or makes it more affecting for you, to show them side by side?
posted by tzikeh at 9:47 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Reminds me of Berling Wall: 20 Years Later -- really interesting juxtaposition.
posted by litnerd at 9:55 AM on July 30, 2010

A local website uses this same technique...

The Seattle Times runs a similar weekly feature, but it's not nearly as cool as this Russian one.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:58 AM on July 30, 2010

Too goddamn cool.
posted by EatTheWeek at 10:02 AM on July 30, 2010

NY Times before and after pics with slider like the Berlin Wall ones.
posted by dripdripdrop at 10:05 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are some good ones here from Normandy 1944
posted by jontyjago at 10:15 AM on July 30, 2010

I really like that NYT slider presentation. I think a crossfade might work too, especially with a slider underneath to manually transition back and forth. What would be even cooler would be if there were multiple photos taken in the same spot every five/ten years over, say, half a century, with the ability to slide forwards or backwards through time. But that would be a huge, nearly impossible project to put together.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:39 AM on July 30, 2010

I can't even imagine what it is like to live in a place where soldiers, tanks, bombs, burnt buildings, dead bodies, etc. litter the streets for years and years. America may have it's faults and rare terrorist attack (WTC or Oklahoma) but we haven't experienced anything like this since the Civil War.

And I"m grateful.
posted by stormpooper at 12:50 PM on July 30, 2010

I would prefer to see the side by side images too. tzikeh, in the pic you link to the building that took up the top right of the older picture is gone, as are, I think, many of the buildings down the the right side. Apart from the curb of the sidewalk, there's not much to suggest the scenes are even the same place, and even the join of the old curb with the new is obscured behind the pedestrian. I guess there's no anchor point in that picture for me to compare the two. If I could see them side by side, with the building on the left and the sidewalk and the road as anchors I'd find it easier to compare.
posted by IanMorr at 12:54 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Very very cool.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:40 PM on July 30, 2010

What everybody else said. Thanks very much for the post.

A side note: I'm used to reading foreign names in Russian, but there's still something mindblowing about long German ones like Вильхельминенхофштрассе (Wilhelminenhofstrasse).
posted by languagehat at 1:57 PM on July 30, 2010

What I find amazing is how little the places, buildings, landscape, and other physical features have changed.
posted by thebenman at 1:58 PM on July 30, 2010

The Museum of London released an augmented reality iPhone app which allows you to see pictures like this around London.
posted by homunculus at 2:46 PM on July 30, 2010

As morbid as it sounds, I fascinated by the bodies on the sidewalk in the "favorites" link, because it reinforces my suspicion that at any given time, you probably aren't more than a few feet from where someone, at some point in history, died.
posted by quin at 2:52 PM on July 30, 2010

The 2008 thread Twin Peaks, Now and Then lead me back to some more then-and-now comparisons of places and movies, and the term rephotography. Search for the term and you'll find some nice comparison shots, and even hints at future technology that will make in-set rephotography easier.

As for Flickr: the term means different things to different folks, including double exposures and photos of photos (or video screens). More comparison tags on Flickr: Then & Now, Now & Then. There are also groups (with some overlap): Now and Then, Then and Now, Toen & Nu (Then & Now) ... and more, as linked to this time-blended photo.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:56 PM on July 30, 2010

I haven't been able to read as much Metafilter as I'd like lately, but having just popped in to see what the highlights were I've just lost an hour and gained more perspective than I thought possible in one evening. It's been a hell of a week, and what with this and the other amazing post, I'm utterly blown away.

I love this place!

The next post better not be about Lady Gaga
posted by Acey at 3:53 PM on July 30, 2010

I would also like to vote for "sucks". The reason I dislike it and would prefer side to side is that information is destroyed in these ones. I want to see the whole shot, and compare everything. With side to side shots I'll spend minutes on each, noticing the paving stones, bollards, paint jobs, all the little details that have changed or haven't. These are very meh.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:02 PM on July 30, 2010

I understand the point of the effect, but I'm with Meatbomb.
posted by dhartung at 7:52 PM on July 30, 2010

Man, I love this idea and I love the skill in finding the exact same camera position for each shot.

But these would be a lot more powerful if he did a couple things:

First, shoot the whole thing in black and white and take pains to make the grain match. If you're going to do essentially a double exposure shot, you need to have a continuity of medium otherwise, it's distracting. Because the WWII shot is going to be the rougher part, you have to match to that, otherwise you're lessening the impact.

Second, he keeps being too tight on the archive photos in his overlay. That'd be mitigated by going b/w, because it would allow the midgrounds to blond more, expanding the space around the focal points. But this also really shows his compositional weakness—almost every single shot is center-weighted and without a little bit of contextual space around the focal point, the illusion of time travel is undercut. (That's a little bit muddled, but it's the best way I could figure to put it.)

Third, extend the distance of the blend and reduce the abruptness of the transparency. The more overlay, the more powerfully the central idea (the similarities and differences from our time to theirs) can come through.

So yeah, either that or images side by side, since our brain is pretty good at doing what I just described when it just has two images juxtaposed.
posted by klangklangston at 8:00 PM on July 30, 2010

I find that haunting and creepy and beautiful and breathtaking all at the same time. What appeals to you, or makes it more affecting for you, to show them side by side?

Not DU, obviously, but I don't find that these images resonate, and I too would rather see side-by-side images. I find the jump between the modern images and the historic ones to be so strong that I don't register any impression of the image as a whole. My brain immediately divides the two. It's especially jarring where the subjects of the two images interact in impractical or impossible ways.

To use a couple of examples from the site dry white toast linked above, because I'm familiar with that feature on Spacing, there's a difference between creating a photograph that almost seems like it could be real and one that has random walls that disappear into space.

Some of the images in the main link blend well, but most don't, either because bits and pieces disappear into thin air, or because the differences in the color, grain, brightness, etc, are just too pronounced to allow my brain to process them together.

One shot I do particularly like is the one where some modern pedestrians appear to be joining a crowd to witness a tank rolling through town. That image still has some jarring elements to it because of the detail and brightness gap between the two images, but the modern pedestrians appear genuinely to be interacting with the historic photo in a way few of the other photos manage, and that I did find striking and effective.

The one immediately above it, on the other hand, has a very interesting premise -- what appears to be a kind of typical tourist snapshot soldier in front of a monument is neatly matched up with some modern tour buses -- but half a soldier floating in mid air with a road melting through him just makes it seem kind of silly.

With side by side images, I could appreciate both the historic and the modern photo and find my own comparisons and contrasts between them, rather than being forced into specific ones by the inadequacies of the image.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:57 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

> I would also like to vote for "sucks".

Actually, nobody else voted for "sucks." Other people confined themselves to saying they themselves would prefer it the other way. You win at threadshitting, and you're fired as Astral Mod.
posted by languagehat at 6:24 AM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Side-by-side is certainly very cool, and I'm glad I've seen those elsewhere. But there's something about how these just have a little bit of that past world "leaking" into ours that I think gives it a nice and very ghostly effect.
posted by BaxterG4 at 9:34 AM on August 1, 2010

Doing them side by side completely destroys the "These things happened in this very space" that makes the series so interesting.
posted by nomadicink at 12:22 PM on August 1, 2010

Here's the flickr group I was referring to: http://www.flickr.com/groups/lookingintothepast/
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:05 AM on August 2, 2010

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