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Luca Ferreira

Capturing the Transient — An investigation into before-and-after photography

How many images are necessary in order to communicate change through photography? Looking at the documentary images that surround us, the assumption is that it just needs two. The so-called before-and-after images seem to have an unmistakable and direct way of representing someone: two photographs show the same person, the same place, or the same space at two points in time, before and after an event occurs. The juxtaposition inherent in before-and-after photographs reveals things that would not be visible in a single photograph and creates a temporal frame that is then experienced by an onlooker. As such, it serves as a valuable tool to not only register but also communicate changes during time: for example, everybody knows before-and-after images that show evidence of glaciers melting as a consequence of climate change.

The intriguingly simple idea of the before-and-after image is before what? Before the after. What one notices when thinking about before-and-after images is the arbitrariness of what is defined as before – and it is only a before when there is the appropriate after. One can only say that there are these two points in time, and something has happened in-between. But then you have to ponder about when something happens? Where does the before begin? This graduation project investigates the most reduced image sequence possible trying to establish what the before-and-after images actually communicate? And how is the experience of a temporal development conveyed by an image pair? The research is based on the hypothesis that in before-and-after images, time and space are perceived in a highly subjective way, because one thing is rarely captured: the event itself. What one can read is its effect on a space, and that is where the onlooker’s imagination is required, to fill the gap with a narrative.

In a first step, before-and-after images as a mode of documentary photography was explored as well as its rich history that can be traced back to the early hours of photography. An expanded view at the interpretative framework of before-after images deals with the temporal expectations that we have towards the medium of photography and also questions the assumptions about the documentary status of before-after photography. In a second step, professionally executed before-and-after images were discussed. For this case study, the image material of a foundation that re-photographed Swiss landscapes over a period of twenty years was used. Simultaneously, different attempts were made to explore the sense of time and space in before-and-after photography. While working theoretically and practically, the fascination created by the fact that they could be understood as a kind of montage steadily grew: a possibility to comment on a first image, not with words, but with a second image. What happens, when there is an after image after the original after image? Or an alternative after to the one given? Therefore, different before-and-after settings were shot showing Swiss landscapes, in order to explore a dynamic sense of time and space in before-and-after photography.

IG: @boschcu.ferreira