Notes on Before-and-After Photography by Jordan Bear and Kate Palmer Albers (2017)

I actually found the introductory essay by Jordan Bear and Kate Palmer Albers in Before-and-After Photography (2017) to be the most useful and interesting one for me. Throughout the book, diptychs where time has elapsed between each photograph, are referred to as ‘before-and-after photographs’. I disagree with or fail to see the distinction between before-and-after photographs and then-and-now photographs or even rephotography. However, Bear and Palmer Albers (2017) do assert an important facet of before-and-after photography which I had inferred from my own practice in my body of work project so far but had yet to articulate. This facet is that there is an in-between implied for the viewer when they regard a before-and after pair of photographs. The in-between invisible occurrence – (Bear and Palmer Albers, 2017) that is talked about is usually imagined and involves the passing of time. I am fascinated by the idea of diptychs possessing a 4th dimension of time in their representation of space (and time). It is dependent on the mind’s eye of the viewer as discussed by Bear and Palmer Albers (2017) but for me this adds to the power of the before-and after photographs.

I have started to think about the roughly 6 month gap between taking most of the diptychs in my series. A lot had happened in those six months in Deptford and some of this was evident in the before-and-after photographs. Also true was that much more stuff had occurred which hadn’t been recorded by the diptychs. These events might appear in other forms of media though; specifically news reports, planning legislations for other developments and other people’s images of Deptford. These forms of media could help inform my project and its viewers to the in-between of the diptychs and make the project as a whole more cohesive. The fact that they would appear differently to the before-and-after photographs (for example a vitrine in the middle of the exhibition) means they wouldn’t encroach too much on the viewer’s imagination of what the in-between of the diptychs held.

Bear and Palmer Albers (2017) then go on to talk about the imagined in-between of the before-and-after pair rather than the junctures (the photographs themselves) at either end. Prior to reading this essay, I had almost exclusively considered the junctures at either end to be the crucial aspects of each diptych produced for my project. These diptychs showed change in my mind. Indeed looking at my diptychs now, it is necessary to look at the diptychs in order to perceive the change. However, the imagined space between each image is what I now find interesting. The diptychs themselves are merely a conduit for imagining what has taken place in-between, a kind of structure within which to frame the change. Perhaps because the changes have been largely quite small-scale in-between the diptychs, it was harder for me to look past the images’ information and see that comparing the images and their differences is paramount.

In terms of semiotics, Bear and Palmer Albers (2017) use the famous semiotician Charles Peirce’s indexical sign to show how a before-and-after pair and indeed single photographs point to the imagined. Photographs are commonly known as being indexical to the objects they refer to – (Bear and Palmer Albers, 2017). This is true in that through light, an impression has been made on the film or sensor, which can then be turned into a photograph. They often also resemble the objects they refer to. Bear and Palmer Albers (2017) then suggest through the work of Peirce that an index points to an invisible occurrence. Single photographs show this pointing towards the invisible too but I feel it is more explicit with before-and-after pairs. Here the two ends to the invisible event are quite solid in representation (themselves being photographs) which allows the viewer greater scope for imagination of the invisible event. I do find the before-and-after pair confusing in relation to indexes. That is because even though they are made up of indexes themselves (photographs) which reference real world objects, before-and-after pairs are also indexes of an unseen occurrence in time.

The introductory essay by Bear and Palmer Albers (2017) in Before-and-After Photography (2017) has been very helpful for me in establishing my interest in the temporal in-between of the two junctures in time for the diptychs I’ve produced for Body of Work so far. Firstly, it is a way of representing the 4th dimension of time in a visual way. Admittedly it is not the only way but one that I think is effective. Secondly, I’ve realised the in-between period of the diptychs, what the diptychs allude to but is left to the viewer’s imagination, is the most important and interesting part of my body of work. I have begun to think about supporting information to back up the diptychs and how this information could be displayed in vitrines in the centre of an exhibition. Thirdly, I agree with Bear and Palmer Albers (2017) that an index like a before-and-after pair points to an occurrence not seen by the naked eye. Furthermore, I am of the opinion that the before-and-after pair makes this index pointing towards the invisible event more explicit than in a single photograph.


Bear, J and Palmer Albers, K. (2017) Before-and-After Photography. London: Bloomsbury Academic. At: (Accessed 17/03/2020).


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