Cayman Islands: ‘Now and Then’ exhibit, again

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Those who missed the highly acclaimed “Now and Then” exhibition at the National Gallery the first time around have another opportunity to see this collection of photographs that, through technologically advanced digital manipulation, blend past and present, as Natasha Were reports for compasscayman.com.  

Due to overwhelming demand, the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands will be exhibiting Now and Then once again, for a short, one-month run, beginning 18 March.

The collection of images is a stark reminder of the dramatic changes the ‘islands that time forgot’ have undergone in a few short decades.

Working with archival photographs from the Cayman Islands National Archives and the Cayman Free Press Steinmetz Collection, photographer Courtney Platt has created what he calls “a wormhole in time” by merging photos of the present day with those from several decades ago.

Viewed as a whole, the images reveal how life in Cayman has changed over the years. The effect can be haunting – and not only for the viewers.

“I felt shivers down my spine at times,” says Courtney. “There was a moment when I was doing a shot at Hog Sty Bay, with the image of Joseph Steinmetz photographing the Commissioner coming ashore. I suddenly had this profound sensation to be standing looking at the exact spot that this man, who was no longer alive, had stood so many years before.”

It was the director of the National Gallery, Natalie Urquhart, who approached him with the idea of blending old and new photographs. Courtney, who has more than 30 years experience as a photographer, including having shot eight assignments for National Geographic, had seen similar work before. He understood the technique that was used and was happy to take on the challenge. Not only was it technically ambitious, but he had a little over three months in which to complete the project from start to finish.

Art gallery print exhibit at the National Gallery, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

The most time consuming part was not the Photoshop work, however. It was finding the original photos. Courtney had access to Cayman Free Press’s Steinmetz Collection, a series of photographs taken in 1950 by Joseph Steinmetz, a photographer he describes as “a consummate professional with technical excellence”.

In addition to these, he trawled through hundreds of images at the National Archives dating as far back as the 1920s, to find the images of the locations that would best highlight the changes between past and present.

“By the time we got the original photos we wanted, I only had a few weeks to shoot the present day locations and do the Photoshopping. I was like a man on fire from that point on,” he says.

Locating the exact spot the photos had been taken was not always straightforward.

“In some cases you could simply hold up the prints and look over the edge to line up the shot,” he says. “In other cases though, it was impossible to find the exact spot. Trees change, roads change… Sometimes I just chanced upon the right spot while out on other assignments. I listened to a lot of older people’s stories, and talked to them about how life used to be, and where they used to go to swim, in order to pinpoint a location, like the shot at Pageant Beach,” he says.

To make the two images blend, Courtney had to time his shoots so that the shadows fell the same way in his photos as in the archival photos. One of the images that was most commented on at the first showing of the exhibition, he says, is the image in which the original featured Carlye Nixon. Courtney has blended an image of his son, Kirkland Nixon, into the same image.

It’s a concept he hopes will catch on among families.

“I’d like it if people were to bring me photos of their parents or grandparents and say, ‘I want you to put me in the photo’,” Courtney says.

The best way to view this series of captivating images, the photographer advises, is to go along with an older Caymanian friend, who can tell you what the images can’t about a way of life that is now lost.

Now and Then opens once again on March 18 at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands.

For the original report go to http://www.compasscayman.com/caycompass/2013/03/15/-Now-and-Then–exhibit,-again/

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