Repeat Photography - Charles Camp and Annie Alexander - 1921

A lot of people seemed to enjoy the historic John Muir photos and fossils last week so I've decided to post of few reshoots of some historic photos. We have been working quite a bit in the Devils Playground portion of the Petrified Forest, mostly in a place called Saurian Valley (collecting a phytosaur skull and now some aetosaur material), and because we were walking right past these spots daily, we decided to have a little fun.

The first fossils in this area were discovered by Annie Alexander (and her collecting partner Louise Kellogg) of the University of California at Berkeley in 1921. The two women were later accompanied by Charles L. Camp who excavated the fossils that they had discovered. Fortunately they had a camera along and photographed several of the sites. Thus we can recreate the shots. The historic photos are part of the PEFO collections, but are courtesy of the UCMP.

The photo below shows from left to right, Kellogg, Alexander, and the fossil preparator Eustace L. Furlong looking under a boulder at an exposed phytosaur skull (the holotype of Machaeroprosopus lithodendrorum). Photo is presumably by Charles Camp.

This is the exact same spot in 2009. Unfortunately some of the boulders have shifted (and Camp moved the one Kellogg was sitting on to get at the skull) so I could not achieve the exact angle (I am too low), but it is close enough. Furthermore camera lenses were different in 1921 from our modern digital cameras so that factors in as well when recreating shots. Notice how not much has changed in 88 years including the placement of even some of the smallest boulders.

This next shot taken by ????, shows Charles Camp in a campsite about 3/4 of a mile from where the upper photo was taken. I'm not sure who the photographer was because Camp was working solo around the time the photo was taken. Did they have timers in 1921?Here is Charles (Beightol, not Camp) in the exact same spot in 2009. Again notice how very little has changed in the boulder pile in the background. Even the uppermost pinnacle is still standing. This is a testament to how slow erosion occurs in the high desert.

Repeat photography is one of my favorite subjects. Not only does it allow us to precisely relocate historic fossil localities, but it also gives us information on erosion rates and in the Petrified Forest, how much the wood deposits have changes. In the last few years the paleontology and museum staff have reshot over 200 historic photos. If people are interested in seeing more than I will post some of them from time to time.


  1. Amazing stuff - looking forward to more. I'm heading up to the Hosselkus this fall, I hope to be able to recreate some more Annie Alexander photos, reservoir willing.

  2. This is a great idea. It's cool to see the changes -- or lack thereof -- in the landscape, and I'll bet it was fun trying to locate the exact spots and camera placements. You can definitely count me in the "interested in seeing more" category.

    It's also interesting to compare the differences in photo technology from then to now, and the effects on the pictures. As to whether self timers were available in those days, info on this page seems to indicate that they were:

    Finally, I wish to nominate Eustace L. Furlong for inclusion in the Cool Paleontology Names Hall of Fame.


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS