2012: A Year of Deja Vu

Dar Yasin—AP
Dar Yasin—AP
The first 11 images in this gallery are taken on different dates by the same photographer — sometimes days, months or even a year apart.

Left: July 1, 2011. Right: June 22, 2012.
Kashmiri Muslim women pray as the head priest, unseen, displays a holy relic believed to be a hair from the beard of Prophet Mohammed, at the Hazratbal Shrine, on the outskirts of Srinagar, India.

In an age that, in many respects, is defined by photography, with millions upon millions of pictures being made every single day, it’s close to impossible for a photographer to produce a wholly original image. Someone—somewhere—has no doubt shot a similar photo from a similar angle in a similar way. Avoiding photographic clichés in such an environment, when everything is a cliché, becomes more and more difficult by the minute.

Then there are those times when the similarities between two (or more) images can be simply and even thrillingly uncanny.

Sometimes these similarities are purely coincidental; but occasionally, photographers purposefully return to a past subject and location to take a similarly composed photograph.

In 2011, Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder flew to Japan to record the devastating effects of the previous December’s tsunami and earthquake. One year later, he returned to the exact same spots as his previous photographs to show the progress made during recovery. Fellow Associated Press shooter Steve Rauke has photographed the dignified transfers of numerous U.S. servicemen at Dover Air Force base since 2009, serving as a constant reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by our troops abroad.

Steve Ruark—AP

Left: July 26, 2012.
A Marine carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Sgt. Justin M. Hansen at Dover Air Force Base, Del. According to the Department of Defense, Hansen, 26, of Traverse City, Mich., died July 24, 2012 while conducting combat operations in Badghis province, Afghanistan.
Right: July 30, 2012.
An Army carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Pfc. Jose Oscar Belmontes at Dover Air Force Base. According to the Department of Defense, Belmontes, 28, of La Verne, Calif., died July 28, 2012 in Wardak province, Afghanistan of wounds sustained from enemy small arms fire.

Photographer Camilo José Vergara has photographed the poorest and most segregated communities in urban America for more than four decades, using photography as a way to understand and appreciate the spirit of those places and record neighborhoods as they change (or don’t change) over time.

But photo-driven déjà vu can take one by surprise, too. Triggered by images’ composition or content, pictures of divergent subjects in similar images can often seem like far more than mere coincidence. Unlikely connections in disparate photos can nag at us, even when the images are made years or many miles apart. And, of course, photographers working in different countries or on separate continents can have no idea that they’ve made an image nearly identical to another taken somewhere over the horizon, or on the other side of the world.

David Guttenfelder—AP

Left: March 28, 2011.
A ship washed away by the tsunami sits in a destroyed neighborhood in Kesennuma, northeastern Japan.
Right: Feb. 23, 2012.
One year later, the same ship remains.

Perhaps our contemporary, collective déjà vu is trigged by the news cycle’s constant hunger for images. Photographers, after all, do sometimes document annual events — at the same time and place, year after year— as if nothing at all has ever changed, or ever will change, at that location.

Documentary photography, meanwhile, raises its own breed of déjà vu. Photojournalists often travel together and work side by side at the same event, documenting the same moment—seeing the same things, taking the same pictures. Even when working independently, photographers are not immune to conscious (or subconscious) mirroring, and the 20th century has provided a litany of masters—Cartier-Bresson, Klein, Evans and Frank come to mind—who have influenced entire generations of image makers. After all, we all want to pay homage to our forebears and our heroes. Is it so surprising when, paying tribute, we veer into imitation?

Even the most celebrated of photographers are not immune to this sincerest form of flattery.

In the book published alongside the Yale show “Walker Evans and Robert Frank,” Tod Papageorge writes of the influence of Evans’ American Photographs on Frank’s The Americans.

“Many of the matched photographs reproduced here obviously, and remarkably, echo one another; they demonstrate that, to a significant degree, Frank used Evans’ work as an iconographical sourcebook for his own pictures.”

With this gallery, TIME embarks on an anthropological dig through our collective visual memory, unearthing images from the last twelve months that awakened in us that singular, familiar sense that we’ve seen them somewhere before. Haven’t we?

Related Topics: , , , , , ,

Latest Posts

2014.  Gaza.  Palestine.  Schoolchildren head to class at the Sobhi Abu Karsh School in the Shujai'iya neighborhood. Operation Protective Edge lasted from 8 July 2014 – 26 August 2014, killing 2,189 Palestinians of which 1,486 are believed to be civilians. 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed.  It's estimated that 4,564 rockets were fired at Israel by Palestinian militants.

Inside Gaza with Photographer Peter van Agtmael

What photographer Peter van Agtmael encountered in Gaza changed the way he worked.

Read More
WASTELAND PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated December 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof.  No copying, distribution or archiving permitted.  Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited.     REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM.  Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing.        Mandatory usage requirements: (Please note: you may select 5 branded images for online use and 3 images for print/unbranded)1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image2. Show the December cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image3. Provide a prominent link to: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/12/superfund/voosen-textat the top of your piece, ahead of the photos 4. Mention that the images are from "the December issue of National Geographic magazine” GOWANUS CANALNew York, New YorkPollutants: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, lead, copperYear listed: 2010Carved from a tidal estuary 160 years ago, the Gowanus Canal is Brooklyn’s industrial artery—and a deeply polluted waterway. Even so, it’s frequented by herons, seagulls, crabs, and canoeists. Defying local fears of economic stigma, the EPA listed the canal as a Superfund site in 2010. It hopes to start dredging contaminated mud in 2016.

Photojournalism Daily: Nov. 24, 2014

Mideast Israel Palestinians

The Best Pictures of the Week: Nov. 14 – Nov. 21

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 19,267 other followers