This post appeared originally on the CAMS New Media Roadtrip blog, which you can access here!
If you listen to much Jack Johnson, you may be familiar with his classic chorus “pictures of people taking pictures of people…” and so on – as irreverent and poppy as he may be, he’s got something right. Photography is a very self-reflexive medium, and perhaps one of the newest and most exciting trends right now is the field of Rephotography.
On Monday evening, we (the Carleton New Media seminar students and the great John Schott) had the pleasure of attending a presentation on rephotography by Arqueologia del Punt de Vista, a research and photography collective working here in Barcelona. It is the first in a series of five sessions we will be conducting with them as a joint academic and artistic endeavor that brings together a variety of viewpoints, especially contrasting their perspectives as local photographers with ours as newly arrived cinema and media studies majors (and budding photographers, of course!).
Arqueologia del Punt de Vista is a 4-member non-profit organization based here in Spain whose primary focus is conducting research related to visual elements of the past – exploring connections between history and collective memory, how Spain conceived and conceives of the Franco regime, and other facets of the rephotographic method. Three of the group’s four members were with us on Monday: Ricard Martinez, the founder and guiding photographer of the project, Isidre Santacreu, an architect and photographer who spearheads the design of Arqueologia’s public installations of their work, and Natasha Christia, a Greek researcher and archeologist who works extensively with the theory of rephotography.
So what, you may be wondering, is rephotography? To quote Natasha, it is “a reflexive tune that explores photography’s creation of time”, a creative and critical approach that “allows us to consider the in-between of the photograph”. Simply put, rephotography is the (performative) act of taking a photograph of something that has already been recorded – usually photographically, but also that which has been mapped, drawn, filmed, and so on. The basic principle is to record changes, as rephotography is inherently an invitation to comparison, an adding of our gaze to the gaze of other people who have been here before, an interrogation of viewpoint. Our photographs in turn may be themselves re-photographed, making us part of a chain through time. Photography, and rephotography, can allow us to position ourselves in respect to past and future.
The lecture, which Natasha presented with compelling fervor that made even some very complicated theory seem quite intuitive, outlined the history of the movement up till now and some of its most prominent and provocative practitioners, starting with the work of Edward Muybridge and working up to modern approaches by foundational rephotographer Mark Klett (who the Arqueologia team have worked with quite recently). She discussed how rephotography can be urban, can concern the body, can work specifically with absence, can play with the liminal space between the original and the simulacrum, with a wealth of examples among contemporary and recent photographers’ works.
What Arqueologia del Punt de Vista has been doing in Barcelona over the last several years has been a series of installations in the city itself, spurred by a desire to create a direct connection between urban space/place and memory, memory and collective history. Some of their works have included Repressio i Resistencia, Runa, Autoretrat, and most recently, Working Across Time (with Mark Klett).
Monday’s meeting with Arqueologia del Punt de Vista was just the beginning of series of very exciting events that we will be engaging in during the remainder of our time in Barcelona – we will add our creative and critical powers to theirs in a joint project that will add our subjective point of view to the perpetual chain of time. Starting on Saturday, we will have a rephotography workshop with the team, working from old photographs and seeking out the precise vantage points from which they were taken, working with drawings and perception of space. We can also look forward to two visits with the team (one to the Catalan Archives and one to the Library of Catalunya) that will allow us to explore the evolving vision of Barcelona through maps and aerial views, piecing together both historical perspectives and our own perspectives as newcomers to the city. Most exciting, perhaps, is the walk we have planned with Ricard, which will see us actually tracing the historic July 19, 1936 walk of the photographer Augusti Centelles (the first day of the Spanish Civil War) through the careful reconstructing of negatives. The walk will be both an experiment in rephotography and an exploration of history and place and image – about how we know what is happening around us, and how to interpret the world through photos.
Perhaps, as Isidre warned, it is true that “photographs are pre-mental; you will end up doing a photo-Barcelona that reflects the photo-Barcelona you have in mind” – but now that we are delving into rephotography, it seems that the tools for discovering a “true” Barcelona – even if that truth reflects, inevitably, our own subjective viewpoints – are at our fingertips.