Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Technology and Imaging the Past.

c. David Grim (taken 6/22/09)

Taking a drive alongside one of the rivers in Pittsburgh, it suddenly struck me that a lot of the manufacturing and industry of the region was located right alongside the water. With just a hint of reflection, this shouldn't be any great surprise. A lot of the railroad tracks also skirt the banks, and it makes sense to have easy access to the boats that can haul a lot of the heavy materials required for industrial processes.

It is a bit difficult, however, to imagine what this all must have looked like when it was active. There was a time several decades ago when the buzz on the shorelines would have been palpable. Of course it would all be obscured by a sheen of pollution, but that would certainly reinforce its reality.

As someone that has made it a point to shoot lots of photography in the area, it's interesting to imagine traveling back in time to see those sights. But the funny thing is that when I do so, I tend to create a mental picture that displays the scenes through the technology of the time.

If I try to recreate how these crumbling buildings looked when they were new, I generally do it in black-and-white. I realize how silly this is, but I find it virtually unavoidable. After all, they were built before color photography. All of the footage and stills from that time used processes that are now obsolete. Strangely, if I picture how Pittsburgh looked around the time of the Civil War- I see it in sepia tones.

Similarly, documentation from the sixties and seventies is now washed out from aging. In my reformation of how things looked at that time, it's all colored that way. The 80's and early 90's saw the development of digital technology, but in its incipient form it had a pixellated quality. Not surprisingly, that's how that era appears in my mind.

All of this makes me think about how today is going to look in people's minds fifty years from now. Resolutions, inks, and printing techniques have made images clearer and more distinct. Will modern times be rendered boldly and without distortion? If so, it will fundamentally alter our conceptions of the "past".

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