Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Third Views, Second Sights

I honestly do realize that it's time (again) to stop boring everyone with obsessive posts on land use/cultural geography issues. But before I move on, I have to take a moment to plug Third Views, Second Sights, an absolutely wonderful book and DVD-ROM documenting Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe's ongoing "Rephotographic Survey of the American West."

Third View revisits the sites of historic western American landscape photographs. The project makes new photographs, keeps a field diary of its travels, and collects materials useful in interpreting the scenes, change and the passage of time.

The Third View project began in 1997 and completed fieldwork in the year 2000. Over the course of four years the project revisited 109 historic landscape sites, all subjects of nineteenth-century American western survey photographs. The project’s "rephotographs" were made from the originals’ vantage points with as much precision as possible. Every attempt was also made to duplicate the original photographs' lighting conditions, both in time of day and year.
Earlier rephotographic work appeared several years ago in a fine book called Second View, but the current project goes farther and fares better. The DVD-ROM includes automatic photo-animations, so that users can see changes at certain sites over roughly 150 years. The effect is beautiful and thought-provoking: People fade into mounds of dirt, trees spring up on barren hillsides, lakes evaporate, huge buildings rise and fall. Before long, the idea of an "inexorable trend" towards growth seems even sillier than usual. (You can see versions of these animations here, but be warned that they don't do justice to the remarkably fluid animations on the DVD-ROM.)

Of course, there are the sort of changes you'd expect (a wild landscape of falling water and cliffs morphs into an overgrown field behind a chain-link fence; an odd geological attraction is replaced by a highway and a traffic sign). But what's far more instructive is how many towns - important ones - literally vanish, as whatever opportunities they once represented turn sour. This, I suspect, is the long-term fate of a lot of current "boomburbs" in the West - especially in places like the Central Valley, where the employment rate lags very, very far behind the development rate - and this is precisely why good design is so important. Much of our sprawl uses toxic and unrecyclable materials that are hard to disassemble and harder still to dispose of safely. (That's one reason why innovations in prefab housing design are so valuable.)

If this subject interests you, pick up the book by all means! It's one of the best multimedia productions I've ever seen...I spent a couple hours playing around with the DVD-ROM, and there're still lots of features I haven't explored...

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