After reading San Francisco is Burning, Dennis Smith’s superb book of San Francisco’s reaction to the 1906 earthquake, I got to thinking. What if I could precisely line up photos taken in 1906 with my own and combine the two together? I’ve always been frustrated by typical “then and now” photos because the photographer always seems to do a sloppy job aligning his ‘then’ photos with the ‘now’ photos.
After sifting through catalogs of library photos of the devastation of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake, I picked out a variety of photos taken from April 18, 1906 to 1907 that I felt give a well-rounded depiction of what was going on in the city at the time.
Now comes the fun part. Where was the exact spot the photographer stood? What was the equivalent focal length of his camera’s lens combined with the film medium? How high off the ground was the camera? Where was the sun in the sky? Everything needs to be precise when layering two photos on top of each other. My original idea was to tear away a piece of the modern photo to expose the 1906 photo, but after playing around a bit, everything seemed more interesting when the two were softly blended together.
I found that many of the original photos I planned to use were in fact unusable because the photographer was situated in a place where a building stands today. Others now have trees blocking the view. Oh well.
Here the first part of a two-part series of photos:
Two girls stand before the partially destroyed Sharon Building in Golden Gate Park while students work on their art projects inside.
Passing cable cars offer a view of the destruction of California Street. Old St. Marys Cathedral has escaped destruction.
A woman opens the door to her Mercedes on Sacramento Street while horses killed by falling rubble lie in the street.
Shocked residents walk by parked cars on California St amidst the devastation.
Pedestrians cross Jones St towards a pile of rubble on Market Street. The Hibernia Bank building is burned out, but still standing strong.
Shoppers cross Drumm St on Market St while men busily work at the monumental task of rebuilding a destroyed city.
Some business people and a young kid face the camera while fire consumes a building on the corner of Franklin St and Hayes St.
Residents take to the grass at Lafayette Park to get a view of the massive fires engulfing the city while a Muni bus stops below.
Happy tourists pass by the Fairmont Hotel, which still stands, but is destroyed inside from the fires.
Men pose in a tent city to house displaced residents while an armored car turns left. Ferry Building repairs have begun.
A woman walks dangerously close to a pit of rubble on 5th St by the US Mint. The Mint has done a remarkable job surviving the quake.
The Painted Ladies have escaped fire raging down the street. Mothers rest on the low wall in Alamo Square while their children play on the grass.