By Laurel Busch
That’s why I love “then and now” photo books. One of the first I bought was The Central Pacific Railroad across Nevada 1868 & 1997: Photographic Comparatives. Lawrence K. Hersh had seen photographs taken by Alfred A. Hart during construction of the Central Pacific Railroad line across Nevada in the 1860s, and he took black and white photos of the same places in the 1990s.
“I treasured the feeling of fending off insects, snakes and the like, climbing up hillsides, scaling cliffs, searching for the exact location and angle from which Hart shot his original photographs,” Hersh wrote in his preface. The results, numbered and arranged in order from west to east, are impressive.
I was hoping to find something similar in the newly released Reno Now and Then II by Neal Cobb and Jerry Fenwick.
After a foreword by Karl Breckenridge and a two-page essay about Reno by Debbie Hinman, the book begins with a vintage color photo of the UNR campus and a modern one of the Truckee River. For the rest of it, the format is a modern, color photo of a building, street or intersection on the left page with an old photo taken at the same location on the right. There are a few aerial photos displayed the same way.
The book is 11 inches wide and 10 inches high and generally has only one photo per page, so the photos are large enough to see clearly. Most of the “then” photos seem to be black and white photos from the early 1900s, but some are as early as the 1870s and some are as recent as the 1970s. Apparently they are from the authors’ and others’ private collections.
I found it weird to see all those people in hats and old-fashioned clothing on the streets I use now, but they were Renoites, too! Being able to match those scenes to current locations helps me think of them as fellow residents rather than people in another world.
As I went through the book, I found myself wanting more. I wanted a logical beginning and end with some kind of order in between. But instead of using the photos to give the reader a tour or grouping them by location or time period, the authors seemed to drop them in at random.
For example, they put photo pairs of the four corners of the intersection of Center and Second Streets in four different places in the book. Perhaps they were expecting readers to pick it up from a coffee table and flip through it casually rather than reading it from beginning to end the way I did.
I was impressed by the index prepared by Eric Moody; it partly makes up for the lack of order. The paragraph-length descriptions below the pictures are informative and well written, and they do a good job of orienting the reader within the photos.
A couple of things that would have been a lot more work for the authors but appreciated would have been providing a map with the location of the each photo marked and taking more time to match their vantage points to those in the old photos the way Hersh did.
The book, which obviously had professional input, has a few telltale signs of self-publishing such as glitches in the headers and footers.
In spite of my quibbles, I’m very happy with it for the old photos alone. This book is the only way most of us will ever have access to them. And just think: Fifty to a hundred years from now the current photos will be “then” photos!
Reno Now and Then II is available at local bookstores and online ($34.95). The authors will be signing books from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Sunday at Sundance Books and Music and at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at Barnes and Noble. I purchased my copy and was not asked to review it. Cross posted at the blog Books in the City of Trembling Leaves.