Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003

Watching the Detectives

It goes without saying that every TIME photographer needs a great eye. But the 15 who contributed to this European Journey special issue, Europe Then & Now, needed great noses as well. Before they shot a single frame, they had to become detectives. Armed with some of the most memorable photos of the last 50 years, they hunted down the exact spots where the pictures had been taken, then set to work re-creating them — capturing as closely as possible the frames of the originals. Associate picture editor Susan Banton, who oversaw the photography in this issue, sought out “people who knew these places so well that they could even find locations that had changed almost beyond recognition.” Seen side by side on the pages that follow, the old and new images add up to an extraordinary record of the ways Europe has changed over the past five tumultuous decades.

Each picture is complemented by the reflections of a notable ersonality — Twiggy on London 1966, Rem Koolhaas on Brussels 1975, Václav Havel on Prague 1989, Boris Yeltsin on Moscow 1991.

Most of the changes captured in these words and images have been inarguably for the better. As editor-at-large Michael Elliott writes in his opening essay, drawn from a July road trip across the Continent, this is a happier, more united and more peaceful place than ever.

On the cover of this issue, East German workers march for freedom at the Brandenburg Gate on June 17, 1953 — and that same Berlin landmark 50 years later, though pocked by the bullets of too many wars, glows on a sultry summer night.

Inside the issue, rioting students on a Paris boulevard in 1968 give way to men and women strolling past a street musician in 2003. Soviet tanks are replaced by handball players, wrecked Budapest buildings are lovingly restored, and a Stockholm electrical power plant is turned into a mosque.

Nearly every set of pictures invites the reader to play detective too, to find the element — the tree, the arched doorway, the church steeple — that anchors both the old and new images, then inspect the changes all around it. Occasionally, there’s no fixed point at all. In Grozny, the wrecked capital of Chechnya, photographer Vladimir Velengurin says, even the local Chechen cops had a hard time finding the scene of Anthony Suau’s nightmarish photos from the war in 1995. The gutted husks of the buildings had been razed and replaced with nothing at all.

And sometimes the spot from which an old photograph was taken no longer exists. The Nokia tire factory we show is gone; the new mobile-phone factory is in another city — but the transformation of this iconic firm was too important to ignore.

Other changes are impossible to miss.

The Spanish coastline at Benidorm has gone from pristine to priapic — a bristling mob of high-rise buildings. To capture the scope of this sprawl, Banton found a graceful Gianni Ferrari image from 1962: a lone tree standing above the town like an umbrella in the sun. Photographer Santiago Barrio tracked down Ferrari, but he could not recall where he’d taken the picture 41 years before. “Finding the mountain was no easy task,” says Barrio, who feared his tree had been knocked down to make way for another hotel. But he finally found what he thought was the right tree. “I had to pay attention to the shadows of the old picture,” he says. “I climbed about 20 meters, I went down about four, then I went a bit to the right and... there it was! There was no doubt, it was the same tree. Will it be there in another 41 years?”

Andrew Testa traveled to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina to photograph the reconstruction of the famous 16th century bridge blown up in 1993, at the height of the war. “What struck me as I was reframing this photograph,” he says, “was how quickly history can be destroyed. A few well-aimed shells and this beautiful bridge, with all that it represented, was lying at the bottom of the river — a real triumph of stupidity.”

Jens Rotzsch had an especially daunting assignment, to update a 1961 Henry Cartier-Bresson image of children playing on the newly constructed Berlin Wall. But Rotzsch got lucky: the Wall was long gone, of course, but children were still playing there 42 years later. Some things never change.

“Europe: Then & Now,” a TIME photographic exhibition based on this issue, opened Aug. 18, 2003 in the Olivier Exhibition Foyer of the National Theatre, London