10.31.2014

The Time Camera: Capturing Moments in Time from decades ago.

Could this be the greatest advance in imaging since color photography?

Imagine, walking up to a scene, setting your camera on a tripod, selecting the time capture feature from the feature set, and then keying in any date and time from the past 100 years, before finally taking a long (3-9 minute) time exposure that is able to capture a "light signature" that can not be detected by the human eye or most conventional optics.  When the waiting is finally over, you are greeted (hopefully) with a usable image of that exact spot on the date and time you selected.

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the Time Camera.

Catonsville Junction Streetcar Loop near Baltimore as seen in late 1961 through the time camera, on a five minute and 40 second exposure.



Working with the time camera is a very hit and miss, and often frustrating endeavor.  It definitely requires the use of either of a tripod or other stable base upon which to rest the camera due to the very long exposure times.  There is no real guide to what exposure should be as there is no way to meter the scenes for the light conditions within them.  In addition, the farther back in time one dials, the longer exposure time is required, to the point where getting any exposures from earlier than the 1950's is extremely difficult.  These same long exposure times result in a very lean battery life, so it is typical for the camera to die after only 3 or 4 tries to get an image.

And while when shooting in today's world, one will by necessity frame a photo of a scene to be mindful of elements such as trees, vehicles, and people, it is essentially impossible to know if a spot where the time camera is set up was obscured by any of the above elements until after the exposure is returned.


Image quality of the results is only decent at best, as the images tend to be grainy, with contrast running the gamut between washed out and severe.  Still, the thrill of capturing a passable image from decades past makes all the trial and error worthwhile, and only whets the appetite to capture an ever increasing quantity of historically fascinating photos.  Unfortunately, it seems that just when the envelope is pushed a bit, the result is an unusable image and a dead battery.  Talk about a cruel trick!


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And speaking of cruel tricks, today is Halloween, and as much as I would be more than willing to sacrifice my pinky toes to have a device such as I described above (even with all the challenges to capture), alas there is no such monster in existence.  This is merely some tomfoolery on my part.  I would certainly lack any sleep at all if such a fascination inspiring device actually existed, as I would have 20 charged batteries at the ready and would be on a long term absence from work to snag images!

But fret not, good reader, as Halloween is a time for Tricks and Treats, and now that you have been a good sport in tolerating my somewhat odd sense of humor mixed with my own wishes in the above trick, I now present you with a corresponding treat, some then and now photos I've started to take in the Baltimore area. I actually photographed the scans of the images using a digital camera originally, and found that "playing" them was a good help in better lining up the contemporary image.  Enjoy!


Since my little trick started with an image purported to be from a time camera at the Catonsville Junction streetcar loop, it seems only fitting that my treats start at the same location.  Above is the actual image taken on Kodachrome in 1961, with a shot below taken a few weeks ago.  The streetcar line was converted to a bus route in 1963, and the turnaround was used for buses from then up until 1998, with the old waiting shelter/comfort station surviving.  The bus loop remains today, but serves mostly as a trail head for a short trail that runs south from here along the former trolley right of way.


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A companion view of the same facility from slightly further south shows the entirety of the small shelter, constructed in the 1940's from reclaimed Belgian blocks that once were used as paving around the streetcar rails.  Interestingly, the trees in the backdrop near the houses have since either obscured or revealed elements of the 1961 view, resulting in a rather odd contrast between these two views. 


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Switching eras and locations slightly, I present a pair of then and now photos from the "Pigtown" area of the city, looking Southwest along Wicomico Street from its intersection with Scott and Cross Streets.  The Raleigh Industrial Center stands as the updated version of Raleigh Clothes.  The old fire call box of the 1971 view has vanished from the corner, while the great old Coca-Cola Fountain Luncheon sign held on until just a few years ago.  


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Taken the same day as the vintage photo above, this view of Wicomico Street looks Northeast from Ostend Street towards the viewpoint of the previous pair.  The street running railroad track, active until about 1998, has since been partially covered, but much still remains.  The building in the foreground has been interestingly truncated to make space for a parking structure and covered loading dock.  Interestingly, the traffic signal at right appears to be the same one, but is no longer hanging from a metal pole on the wire.    




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Panning left, this view looks Northwest along Ostend Street .  Only some of the building in the foreground remains, largely muted by being filled in with brick.  The rest has also been sacrificed for the parking structure.  The signage has all been updated, as has the signal control box and the fire hydrant, though the signal pole looks to be the same one.  Finally, numerous trees have sprouted up in the background to add some much needed greenery to the original scene.  



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The final view is a little claustrophobic, but I just had to give it a try.  This looks South along Charles Street towards the Belvedere Hotel, first in 1957 and then today.  The scene is quite similar, though the subject of the photo, the Monumental Life sign, has long since vanished.  Interestingly, the alignment of the new shot is off by a good bit, and this was evident to me when I shot it.  The original was obviously taken from a higher perspective, either through a window or on front stairs to a building that is no longer there.  I stood in a window sill as it was to get this, but still think I needed another 5 feet of elevation to try to match the original. 



Happy Halloween to all!