So there’s this popular internet trend at the moment of re-creating childhood pictures, and of course there are several great websites like Young Me/Now Me and Back to the Future by Irina Werning that are devoted to showcasing this kind of re-photography. While I can understand the allure of putting on an old 80’s suit and ridiculous glasses to re-create a moment from your childhood, I have to think that the reason people are so interested in re-photography goes a little deeper. I think we are drawn to old photographs, especially ones from our childhood, because of the way they bring us back to a certain point in time and allow us to connect with the past.
As an archaeologist in training, and lover of old photography, I am of course very interested in connecting with and learning about people in the past. So I wondered if there was a group who was interested in the re-photography of historic sites. A quick Google search later and I stumbled upon this fantastic website www.tampachanging.com created by Tampa native and USF alum Bryan Weinstein. Bryan finds old turn of the century (19th-20th century for you young’ins) photos of Tampa, then revisits the historic structures featured in the photos and takes new pictures from the exact same vantage point. The result is pretty striking in some cases (a view of Ybor City and a view of the University of Tampa), but the before-and-afters are really a testament to how much Tampa has changed throughout its history.
Not only is re-photography interesting from a purely historical point of view, it can also be helpful to archaeologists by showing us the locations of buildings that are no longer in existence. The most important thing for an archaeologist is to understand the context artifacts are found in. Just like using context clues to get a better understanding of what a new word means when you are reading a story, archaeologists use context clues like the depth of an artifact below surface, the soil types around it, the layer of soil it is found in, the history of the area it is found in, and other items found in association with that artifact to get a full understanding of what it means. Without context an artifact is just an old piece of garbage! For me, I wanted to see if re-photography could give me a better idea of where houses used to be located in a particular area of Ybor City. That way, when we actually conduct an archaeological survey in that area we can understand what types of buildings (house, store, factory, bakery) any artifacts we find might have been associated with.
So for my own foray into re-photography I decided to use two pictures I had found while researching the history of the block where the Ybor City Museum State Park now sits. The museum is currently located inside the old Ferlita Bakery building, built in 1923. Unfortunately, many of the original houses that also used to be here were bulldozed in the 1960’s as part of “Urban Renewal”, making it difficult to know what the neighborhood was like during the early days of Ybor City. By re-creating these pictures I hoped to not only get a better idea of where old buildings used to be located, but to also put myself in the place of the original photographer and try to experience Ybor City as they saw it way back when.
The first photo I tried to recreate (below) was of the old cigar factory building on the northeast corner of the block (at the corner of 19th Street and Palm Avenue). This building is one of the oldest remaining cigar factories in Ybor City, and based on the historic photos has definitely seen better days. The first thing I noticed when trying to take my new picture is how much the location of the road has changed from the 1920’s. I literally had to stand in the middle of the road (in a turn lane to be exact) to get the same view as the original picture.
Next was a great picture I found of the Ferlita family standing in front of their bakery from the 1920’s. Thankfully I didn’t need to stand in the way of on-coming traffic for this one, but it was difficult to get everything to match up. My highly scientific method for getting it right involved printing out the picture and holding it up in front of me to get the right perspective (top). I’ll let you be the judge of how well it worked (below)!
The thing that’s really great about the Ferlita picture is that it also includes in the background two of the old houses that used to be located on the block pre-bulldozer. By lining up the two pictures, and using some Photoshop magic, I was able to merge the old and new photos together. The resulting picture showed that the old houses were located where the Museum’s garden is now located. By understanding the history of buildings at the site, we will have a much better understanding of the artifacts we find there in future!
Pretty good for an archaeologist, right?
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Ybor City, or maybe attempt your own re-photography of the Ferlita Bakery, come out on Saturday, March the 26th from 9am-3pm to the Ybor Museum State Park for FPAN West Central’s Archaeology in the Park event!
Historic photos courtesy of the Florida Park Service, Ybor City Museum State Park and the Tampa-Hillsborough County Library System.
Modern photographs taken by Rebecca O’Sullivan.