Why I Love Then And Now Photo Comparisons
Updated: Aug 1, 2018
Aside from a straightforward spot the difference - which I confess I very much enjoy - then versus now photo comparisons offer a chance to reminisce, reflect on the progress made during our lifetimes and consider our changing relationship with time and our wider environment as we get older.
I can remember the very moment my obsession with the old versus the new comparison photos began. It begun with an internet meme of people hilariously recreating their childhood photographs. Neither the photographer nor the subjects probably considered the flux of time in the original shutter-snap moment. At least not until it was re-created and placed in stark contrast with a comical modern reality: children turned adults, outdated clothing styles, awkward poses, altered body proportions and behaviours and quirks long grown out of.
Time is so slow when you're young.
When we're young, the status quo is all there is. We have not yet experienced many changes in our lives and everything still has a comforting sense of permanence. So much so, the familiar gets blurred into the background noise of our day-to-day lives and often goes unappreciated. It's the major milestones in our lives which develop our awareness of time and create a more defined apparatus by which to measure it. When I was child, anything that happened before I was born seemed like irrelevant aeons ago. Now 10, 20, even 50 years before my year of birth has become more tangible and relevant with each year that passes. This, in turn has ignited my interest in modern history, a growing curiosity for my surroundings, and how things have come to be the way they are as well as where they might be headed.
Then versus Now comparisons show more than just the passage of time.
Then versus now photo comparisons highlight how our surroundings are a living projection of our history, our culture, our lifestyles and our aspirations. Buildings in particular are most indicative of our societal development and values. The grandness of the building is often directly proportional to its importance at the time it was conceived and constructed. The design often highlighted its significance at forefront of technology, transport, industry, communications or entertainment of the time.
How we use them now gives the buildings a modern character and context – grand post offices turned into wine bars or industrial warehouses turned apartment complexes. Their upkeep, or lack of upkeep, that has seen their façades become simplified, painted over and changed. The rise and fall of their prestige depending on what we currently hold dear.
Across the world there are infinite examples of buildings built during boom eras whose original purpose and meaning is now lost to universality or obsolescence.
Spot the difference: An appreciation of a bigger picture.
To me old photos appear to depict simpler times. The streets are ostensibly more spacious and empty with less visual clutter and street furniture. This airiness is enhanced by the absence of claustrophobia knows high-rise buildings or cars - which take up a remarkable amount of space in our modern towns.
I try to put myself into the shoes of the people in the photographs. What was their life like? Did they even think much about their surroundings? How would they feel walking around that very place in this day and age? Would they feel sad to see so many iconic buildings are dwarfed and imposed upon by newer, perhaps more soulless buildings?
How would I feel walking down the street during their era? Perhaps a little uncomfortable at the quietness. There's something considerably more comfortable today in the anonymity of large crowds, impersonal buildings and a sense of development.
Then Versus Now in living 3D – Berlin Wall Memorial Park.
A recent trip to the Berlin Wall Memorial Park was the most brilliantly immersive historical then and now experience I have had.
The Berlin Wall Memorial park is a 1.4km long park following the wall's original route along Bernauer Strasse.
The course of the famous Wall is now represented by 10ft high metal poles and the park features iconic photos printed across the sides of buildings and plenty of information boards.
Metal footings mark out the floor plans of razed buildings and numerous escape tunnels.
The whole experience is completed with a lookout onto an original 60m section of former 'death strip' enclosed by tall steel walls.
In the photo below, I'm standing in the Memorial park on the junction of Bernauer Strasse and Ackerstrasse. This exact spot would have been an extremely perilous place to be 30 years ago, as it is right on the Death Strip. A further 25 years prior to that, I would have been in the middle of a demolition site. In 1963 the apartment that stood here was cleared to prevent East Berliners jumping out of the windows and fleeing to West Berlin. A few years prior to that, I would have been standing in someone's apartment - and who know how much they would have appreciated that?
Places like these that so brilliantly recreate what has been lost, make me stop and think. With all that has happened over the past 60 years, what will this place be like in 30, 60, 100 years time? And will I even still be here to find out?....
If you too love a bit of then versus now, check out these sites for some beautifully compiled comparison photos: This is Insider, Bored Panda and Buzzfeed. Do you have any special locations that make you stop and think? Let us know in the comments section below.