News Column

Amesbury Days initiative lets residents picture the past

June 14, 2014

By Jim Sullivan, The Daily News of Newburyport, Mass.

June 14--AMESBURY -- Working from the theme of "Remember when...," Julian Thompson, chairman of this year's Amesbury Days, had been looking for new ways to bridge the present and the past as seamlessly as possible.

Thanks to a bit of ingenuity and some low-tech photography, he may have found it.

The portals between the present and past Thompson discovered are called collaborative pictures and they are a simple concept. Find an old or historic photo, bring it and a camera to the same spot where the photo was taken years ago, align the photo to the exact place it was taken, then take your own picture -- instant wormhole.

"It almost works best with a cheaper camera," Thompson said. "A better camera is going to try and snap things in focus. When you get a basic camera, everything is out of focus all the time."

Acting on a tip from a friend a couple of months ago, Thompson went to the website which has been featuring the collaborative pictures of people's loved ones who passed away suddenly inserted into a present day location. (Collaborative pictures of Allied Forces during the D-Day invasion 70 years ago matched with the same locations today have also been popping up online as of late.)

"I thought, 'This is exactly what I want the theme to be for Amesbury Days,'" Thompson said. "So, I reached out online for old photos of Amesbury's downtown and went to the public library who provided pictures."

With the help of librarian Margie Walker, Thompson soon had an assortment of old Amesbury photos to work with. He got in touch with Hockmeyer Studios general manager Jeff Williams who began sending photographers out into the city to take the collaborative pictures.

"We didn't do anything special to the photographs," Williams said. "The photographer just went out with a regular camera that we use everyday in our business. He just held it up in front of him and took the shot. The key to making them look right is finding the general location of where that person was standing 60 to 70 years ago and try to get back to that location."

Artist Jon Moors also provided Thompson with a dramatic photograph of downtown Amesbury in the 1940s that depicts a large smokestack in the background, now long gone. The image was matched with the present day and re-shot. Another picture originated during the 1974 Amesbury Days canoe race where a pair of men are seen walking a canoe across Friend Street and onto Main Street in front of the Fuller building; now, they look as if they are about to step into 2014 Amesbury.

"We encourage folks to do likewise and share," Thompson said. "When this is done, it will be archived for Amesbury Days, moving forward. Because when you think about it, over the years you can take a series of photos every five or 10 years in the same location and it will look different every time. But the center photo can be the same or you could do it in a time lapse."

As Amesbury Days approach at the end of the month, Thompson said that planning is going well, but he is still looking for ways to get residents talking about their city.

"The community has really stepped up and been very supportive of the direction we are going by honoring our past as we are trying to do in this project ourselves," Thompson said.


(c)2014 The Daily News of Newburyport (Newburyport, Mass.)

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Source: Daily News of Newburyport (MA)

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