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Comparing Contemporary and Historical Public Domain Images

Posted by Laurie Frost on August 17, 2010

Judging from the search terms that land people at this blog, it seems a lot of people are looking for public domain images of structures throughout the world. Earlier this year I had a series of posts offering contemporary views from the CIA Factbook, but the problem with many of those is that they are no better composed than your average tourist shot. If you don’t require current views, you may be just as well off choosing one over a hundred years old from the Library of Congress’s [LoC] catalogue.

In this post, for current views, use Credit: CIA Factbook; old views; Credit: Library of Congress [image ID].

Here we have St.  Andre’s [St. Andrew’s] Church, Kiev, Russia (Ukraine) [LC-DIG-ppmsc-03822] between 1890 and 1900 and, next, today.

[St. Andre's Church, Kiev, Russia, (i.e., Ukraine)]


The church has been spiffed up quite a bit in recent years, and if you could crop out that annoying wire and don’t need the whole church, the Factbook’s view is hard to resist — the colors are lovely. I can’t figure out why in the old picture the church seems to tilt when the trees and telephone pole (?) on the left don’t.

In some cases, things have definitely changed around the structure, if not so much to it. Here’s outside the South Gate, on one of the main highways of the Hermit Capitol, Seoul, Korea in 1904  [LC-USZ62-72551]:

Outside the South Gate, on one of the main highways of the Hermit Capitol, Seoul, Korea

and today:

There’s been little change to Alexander’s Column, St. Petersburg, Russia, between 1890 and 1900 [LOT 13419, no. 115] and today, but in this case, the older picture is the better one, I think.

[Alexander's Column, St. Petersburg, Russia]


The contrast between these next two images is interesting. First, the Factbook’s contemporary view of  “Part of the Hangman’s Bridge (Henkersteg; built 1457) in Nuremberg. The city executioner used to live in the tower and the roofed walk above the River Pegnitz. Considered a ‘persona non grata,’ the hangman was avoided by the citizens of the city.” Next, from the LoC, an albumen print from some time between 1860 and 1890 of the same structure [#94512777]. The water level seems to have risen, and the covered part of the bridge has received some paint, but otherwise not much has changed in the past 120 to 150 years, except the tower no longer houses a hangman.

In Antwerp, Belgium, the City Hall (Stadhuis) also doesn’t seem to have changed much in the past 100-120 years (LoC dating; #2001697875) in spite of two world wars. Then again, even before the turn of the 20th century, it had seen much; the building was erected between 1561 and 1565.

 Here’s a painting of pilgrims at Lourdes, France,  published by Currier & Ives some time between 1856 and 1907 [LC-USZC2-2915]. The caption from the Factbook for the next image reads, “Pilgrims and visitors at Lourdes. The Rosary Basilica in the foreground serves as an entranceway to the larger Basilica of the Immaculate Conception behind.”

Pilgrims at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes

Again, depending on your purpose, you might prefer this photochrom print from the last decade of the 1800s of  the monument of Alexander II, Helsingfors, Russia [ i.e., Helsinki, Finland] [ LOT 13419, no. 023]  since the Helsinki Cathedral seems to be undergoing some repairs in this Factbook shot.

[Monument of Alexander II, Helsingfors, Russia, i.e., Helsinki, Finland]

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