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In The Pipeline: 'Seeing' time with then and now shots

February 16, 2011|By Chris Epting
  • View near the Bolsa Chica Gun Club, 1933.
View near the Bolsa Chica Gun Club, 1933. (HB Independent )

Recently, while speaking at Hope View School, I showed the kids a series of images. They were all taken from the same spot, standing at the head of the pier, looking down Main Street in Huntington Beach. But the images were taken at different points in history, so as one shot dissolved into another, the kids could see the passage of time: one picture in 1915, then 1942, then 1960, 1985 and on to the present day.

The kids gasped as the images evolved, reacting to the simple drama of a makeshift exercise in time-lapse photography. Perhaps it was because they're familiar with the area, so the revelation of what it had been like before was simply a surprise. Or maybe they had a preference for the old look versus the new. Whatever inspired their reactions, it pleased me to see that I'm not the only one fascinated by "then and now" photography.

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It's hard for me to explain what it is about the practice of lining up an old photo in the same angle and then reshooting it that excites me so much. I tried to explain it in the introduction of my new book, "Orange County Then and Now" from Arcadia Publishing: "I have shot then/now photos all over the United States. It's a true passion of mine to stand in the footsteps of another photographer and re-create what he or she framed up decades before. Comparing the two shots is a way to 'see' back in time; to make it a tangible, measurable element — a most exciting proposition."

"Seeing" time. I suppose that's what it is — experiencing firsthand how a location has progressed (or regressed, depending on one's point of view) over the years. While the book presents side-by-side images throughout the county, it's the local comparisons that drew me in the most for obvious reasons. This is home, this is our backyard, and so I was naturally more intrigued with measuring the physical changes in images of Huntington Beach (and many of those are in the book).

It's not news that the downtown area is much different now than it was then. Looking at images of the Golden Bear site today, it's hard to even place precisely where it sat, given the amount of development that's taken place since the mid-1980s.

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