Much has changed over the past century, including automobile design, fashion, and photographic technology. And yet, much hasn’t, suggests Mark Hersch’s “Time After Time” series. For his artworks, Hersch sources a vintage photo, makes a replica image of the same scene, and then fuses the two, drawing out the similarities and differences between each capture.
How it began: A few years ago Hersch came across a 1905 image in Chicago. It was labeled “Shore Drive, Lincoln Park.” He wanted to find the spot where the photo was made and reshoot the scene as it is today. “I was fascinated by how much and how little had changed,” he says, “so I decided to blend the image together and reveal the most compelling parts of each image, like people in their period dress, horses and buggies, the modern skyline, and people in contemporary clothing.” He was so taken by the result that he continued creating and eventually quit his job to travel to other cities, amassing a whopping 300 images.
Sourcing historic photos: Hersch finds vintage images in libraries, museums, historical societies, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and private collections, he says, preferring those that include period reference points—cars, trains, horse-drawn carriages, fashion, and architecture. “It can’t just be an old black-and-white picture of a building, as you wouldn’t really be able to discern the era.”
Replicating the perspective: Getting the same vantage point on the scene isn’t as difficult as getting the correct focal length so that all the components of the scene are the same proportion, he says. “If I’m zoomed in or zoomed out too far, everything is out of whack. It’s a tricky proposition because today’s equipment is very different from what photographers used at the turn of the last century.” He uses a tilt-shift lens and captures the images at the same time of day as the original so the shadows fall in the same direction.
The challenges: Locating the image in high resolution, which often means obtaining a scan of the original glass plates used 100 or more years ago, isn’t easy. There’s also the disappointment of finding out that the vantage point in the original image has been obstructed by new construction. He now consults Google Street View before committing to traveling to a site to replicate a vintage image. The final challenge is creating the finished product—making sure the architectural angles align and the old and new elements blend seamlessly. “I’m often editing down to the individual pixels,” he says. “It’s part science and part art, and it can take up to 16 hours or more of editing to create the final image I want.”