Why before and after photos matter

Why before and after photos matter

The before and after photo has seen something of a surge in popularity over the last few months with countless photos appearing across social media of people in similar poses to ones they were in many years ago. For example, think the family photo of two little brothers taken on Brighton Pier thirty years ago, then you have the photo of the two brothers stood on the same spot on the pier thirty years later. As a bit of fun I can see the value in these photos and I suppose there is an element of history in these old photo comparisons that make them appealing. However, for me the real value in before and after photos is what we learn from them.

A few blogs back I did an article whereby a photo editing tool had been used to merge an old photo of a certain landmark with a current photo. You can see the article by clicking here but the most powerful images I’ve seen of this technique are those where current photos of French landmarks are merged with photos of the Nazi invasion sixty years ago. There’s no escaping the fact that a merged photo of this kind is a powerful statement and it gets people thinking, which all photography should. However, it’s not my preferred before and after photo though because again, like the two brothers scenario about, it’s a bit too gimmicky.

The perfect before and after photo should speak to the viewer without the need for editing or comedy to draw attention. I’ve said it in previous photo blog posts and I’ll stand by this that an old photograph as it is is the most appealing piece of art out there and for that reason it needs no help to enthral. Yes there’s wonder in an artist’s painting and I find a good drawing or sketch captivating but for me there’s no better piece of art than an old photo. For the creative mind looking at an old photo draws you in and creates so many story strands that hours could be spent analysing the one image. In fact, it’s well known amongst authors that many a book has been written on the bases of one old photograph. They speak to you in such a unique way.

The perfect example

So when I think of a before and after photo ideally I’m seeing two photos, one of the place as it was years ago and one as it is now. Like the example below. In the photo to the left is a photo of the burned out general post office on O’Connell Street, Dublin. The post office was the Headquarters of the Irish Republicans who resisted the British occupation of their country and fought for their freedom. Vastly outnumbered and surrounded by the British army they were bombarded with shelling until surrender. The photo shows the burned out ruins once the uprising was over and stands as a silent witness to the events that had gone before.

Then in the photo to the right we have the post office as it stands today, nearly 100 years later. Still the general post office, O’Connell Street, Dublin. But now the general post office of an independent Republic of Ireland and a monument that stands as a reminder to the sacrifices of the past. To me this is the ideal before and after photo. No tampering, just a straight forward comparison of then and now. Leaving the story to be discovered and imagined by the viewer.

before and after photo Dublin

I’ve used the before and after photos above because it’s not the most obvious of landmarks. I’ve done that deliberately because I want to convey one, the power of the photos and two, the draw of a before and after photo captured well. In essence it doesn’t matter what the landmark is if it compels you to think. On a recent trip to Ireland I visited a place I spent a couple of happy years in during my early twenties. Visting the place fifteen years later much had changed although the basic structure and architecture remained familiar. Imagine that scenario when fifty or sixty years have passed. That’s the power of before and after photos and that’s why they matter so much. Whether it’s a photo of an old landmark fifty years ago with a picture of it today to compare, or it’s an old photo of the Normandy landings with a photo of the beach today if you can look at the two photos and appreciate the echoes of the past that resonate today then it’s a humbling feeling. Photos and history go hand in hand and preserving history should be at the forefront of any progress because it defines who we are.

Technology, attitudes and people move on but we shouldn’t lose sight of how important the old photo is. A photo is a moment in time captured forever. Buildings will crumble, the living will die but in an old photo we live forever.

Photo restoration before and after

before and after photo restoration

And remember, at Red Rose Photos we restore your old photos professionally so you can preserve them forever. In keeping with this article we’ve included some of our before and after examples for you to view.

by Brent Di Cesare

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