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Third Views, Second Sights: A Rephotographic Survey of the American West

by Mark Klett, Project Director
Kyle Bajakian, William L. Fox, Michael Marshall, Toshi Ueshina, Byron Wolfe
Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe in association with the Center for American Places, 2004
256 pp. illus. 138 b/w, 14 col., and interactive CD. $N/A
ISBN: 0-89013-432-4.

Reviewed by Aparna Sharma
The Film Academy
University of Glamorgan


Third Views Second Sights is a collection arising from a second rephotography survey in the American West. The book brings into dialogue images from the first surveys of the landscape, undertaken in the 1860s and 70s with a first rephotography project in the 1970s and a second, two decades apart, in the late 1990s. Both projects followed a strict technical methodology, imaging landscapes from the same vantage points as in the first survey images and meticulously filmed at the same time of the day and year. Images from the three surveys are juxtaposed in the book, setting up a very clear index of change and continuity for the reader. The collection is supported by an extensive introduction by Project Director, Mark Klett and concludes with a selection of field notes compiled by author and participant, William L. Fox, who has previously written on landscape interpretation. The visual richness of the project aside, the book achieves in sharing and provoking reflection upon how closely landscape and the culture/s evoked and technology/ies employed in engaging with it are interrelated.

Besides indexing amendments due to human settlement and development, natural variations, and concerted attempts at environmental preservation, the book simultaneously amounts to a register of advances in photographic technologies. It clearly furnishes an interdisciplinary preoccupation, mobilizing a spread of discussions including photographic history, earth science, and conceptual art. Navigating through the text, the strict adherence to position clearly evokes the presence of the photographer, muddying the distinctions between, as William Fox states in his notes, "object and process" or "science and art." The rephotography surveys involving intensive fieldwork, often performed under strenuous natural circumstances, emerge as more complex than a mediation surrounding form. They open a passage wherein the process of rephotography exemplifies the imbrication of history, personal narrative/s, culture, and technology through which the subject of "landscape" stands argued beyond spatial definition and dynamics and landscape documentation itself extended beyond nature or wilderness photography.

A question all participants of the Third View team tangentially yet critically engaged with was whether their work amounted to "making history," a phrase first used by a journalist while questioning them. Klett and Fox resist the arrogance and presumption in such a take. Rather, they hold their work as "participatory," "not separate from history." Rephotography is resituated now, not as a goal oriented activity, more as an evolving process from which participants make "excursions" to reflect upon variegated dynamics associated with the landscapes they interact with. In this process global movements and contemporary geopolitical dynamics find as much claim as engagement with artefacts or documents such as the Hollywood Western. Such reflection and embracing of multiple movements, dimensions, and connections open a fine discursive territory that is away from simplified categories of form and content with respect to apparatus and nature-culture or history-development in terms of anthropological inquiry.

The American West, which has been the subject of vast landscape interpretation and visual and cultural anthropological research, provides rich testimonials of physical and geological malleability, competing lines of communications, and layers of complex cultural inscriptions interpreting which landscapes can be understood as constantly evolving and not strict cartographic categories. By offering this curvaceous landscape in some of her most telling splendour and argument, Third Views casts the net of the rephotography project and its engagement with time on us readers, too. Landscape gets emphatically catapulted to an altogether new dimension of temporality, summarised in Klett’s comment: "So space is not what’s new, but time is, and that’s what we traverse in Third View. That’s what rephotography is all about." Injecting the dimension of time posits more sensuous and experiential possibilities that are useful interventions within debates surrounding the problematics of self-reflection within Visual and Cultural Anthropology.

The book is accompanied by an interactive DVD that includes, among other research resources, a collection of short films pertaining to the sites visited and field notes. The book concludes with a useful, select bibliography.



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