Rephotographic Survey Project

Artists: Mark Klett and Joann Verburg, William Henry Jackson
Clear Creek Reservoir, Colorado, a photograph

Mark Klett (b. 1952) and Joanna Verburg (b. 1950), Clear Creek Reservoir, Colorado, 1977, gelatin silver print, 5 13/16 x 8 5/8 inches, Brigham Young University Museum of Art.

Commentary by James Swensen
Assistant Professor of Art History

Moraines on Clear Creek, Valley of the Arkansas, Colorado, a photograph

William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), Moraines on Clear Creek, Valley of the Arkansas, Colorado, 1873, modern silver gelatin copy print after original albumen silver print, Brigham Young University Museum of Art.

In 1976 two young photographers, Mark Klett and JoAnn Verburg, and a photo-historian named Ellen Manchester came together with an idea to rephotograph sites in the American West that had originally been documented by the great survey photographers such as William Henry Jackson and Timothy O’Sullivan in the 1860s and 1870s. By the spring of 1977 and with the support of various organizations they began a project that spanned the next three years and would eventually become known as the Rephotographic Survey Project (RSP). In time the original members of the RSP were joined by photographers Rick Dingus and Gordon Bushaw.

In many ways the RSP paid homage to the heroic exploits of the survey photographers of the past. Timothy O’Sullivan, in particular, was (and still is) considered one of the most influential photographers of the 19th century. Even with modern equipment the RSP learned, by personal experience, how difficult it was to physically retrace their steps. At its heart, however, the RSP was a conceptual project and not one of mere nostalgia. The young photographers were profoundly interested in exploring broader issues such as time and change. In many examples it was possible to see that very little had changed in a given landscape over a century. In other examples it is difficult to believe that the photographic pairs were of the same site. In all, their work gave new insight into the ancient question of whether it is actually possible to step into the same river twice.


Click here to view Barret Lybbert’s response


For further reading:

Mark Klett, Ellen Manchester, JoAnn Verburg, Second View: The Rephotographic Survey Project. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1984.

Additional Readings:

William L. Fox. View Finder: Mark Klett, Photography, and the Reinvention of Landscape. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.

Mark Klett, et. al. Third View, Second Sights: A Rephotographic Survey of the American West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2004.

Mark Klett, Rebecca Solnit, and Byron G. Wolfe. Yosemite in Time: Ice Ages, Tree Clocks, Ghost Rivers. San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2005.

Garry F. Rogers, Harold E. Malde, Raymond M. Turner. Bibliography of Repeat Photography for Evaluating Landscape Change. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1984.


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