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April 19-25, 2006

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'After the Ruins'

After the Ruins: 1906 and 2006, Rephotographing the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire
REVIEW (By Mark Klett with Michael Lundgren, with essays by Philip L. Fradkin and Rebecca Solnit; University of California Press, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; 134 pages; $24.95 paper)
—Michael S. Gant

In a series of intriguing projects, photographer Mark Klett has been reshooting the American West by gathering famous historical images and photographing them from the same angle and distance. The results (beautifully recorded in Yosemite in Time: Ice Ages, Tree Clocks, Ghost Rivers) create a temporal double-take. The differences—both gross and subtle—that time has wrought are placed side by side for analysis and nostalgia. For After the Ruins, Klett has juxtaposed images from the 1906 earthquake with precise copies taken a century later. The contrast between devastation and redevelopment is startling. Familiar landmarks reappear with their structural bones newly cladded for modern architectural tastes. The Romanesque Call Building on Market Street was gutted but not toppled; later, an Art Deco façade turned it into a modern skyscraper. One amazing view down Market from the Ferry Building shows a "city in ruins," as the headline writers of the time often put it; today, the same vista is hemmed in with blocky high-rise office buildings. The book concentrates on San Francisco but does include photos of Stanford University: the school's ornate chapel with its shattered roof timbers deposited on its floor, and the iconic photo of the statue of Louis Agassiz stuck head first into the sidewalk in the quad. Both have been restored to their proper places, which is too bad in the latter case—the upended scientist would make a perfect piece of ready-made avant-garde sculpture. The book accompanies a show at the Legion of Honor, running through June 4.


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