After the Ruins, 1906 and 2006.
Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire.
Photographs by Mark Klett. With Michael Lundgren. Essays by Philip L. Fradkin and Rebecca Solnit. Interview with photographer and Karin Breuer
University Of California Press, Berkeley, 2006. 140 pp., 52 color and 56 duotone illustrations, 2 maps, 2 double gatefolds, 11x10".
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Klett is obsessed with time: time in its scientific/mathematical sense; the subjective experience of time; the philosophical nature of the past, present and future; and memory as a marker of change. Repeatedly, he has returned to the well of photographic history, particularly the charged history of the American West, weighing the past against the present via rephotography. After the Ruins is both a return to and a completion of this artist's deliberate widening of his own temporal horizons. In 1990, Klett published One City Two Visions, a rephotographic panorama of the San Francisco skyline (the 1878 original was by Eadweard Muybridge). In both images, the city appears sunny and prosperous. This latest book is more unsettling on many levels, partly because its points of departure are archival images of disastrous destruction and its aftermath. By setting up his camera as close as the art and science of rephotography can get to the 1906 photographers’ (the most well-known of whom was the professional portraitist Arnold Genthe) original viewpoints, Klett is able to draw attention to emblems of the past tucked into the present-day city. Strangely, the overall feel of the 21st-century pictures is made somewhat insubstantial by their placement next to twinned scenes of ruin, shot at similar times of day, 100 years earlier. The viewer questions the materiality, the solidity of our present world; long-gone destruction feels real—modern cabs and buses and people hanging out in the park appear strangely wispy. The book employs only two of the wonderful “embedded” panoramic images used to such good effect in Third Views, Second Sights (2004) and Yosemite in Time (2005), but they have the same disorienting effect here. The past is plunged into the present, setting memory adrift like a yellowed ghost, wandering through the public square in the midday sun. As Klett seems to have intended all along, the flowing future, present and past begin to feel less and less like settled facts, and more and more like open questions. PHIL HARRIS
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