Past and Present in the Frame at PRONI

Images which span the centuries have been published by the Public Record Office.

A series of archival photos of Belfast, taken at the turn of the 20th century, have been merged with pictures of the same locations in the present day.

The photos can be viewed on PRONI’s Flickr feedexternal link.

As Sam Cromie from PRONI explained, the results are quite striking. He said: “Paradoxically, the two things that people have noticed are the similarities and the differences.

“It shows how much things have changed in the past hundred years, but also how much they have stayed the same. The streets and buildings are still there for the most part, and it’s still Belfast, but the life around them is almost unrecognisable.

“Looking at the photographs, the biggest change is transport. Boats and trams have been replaced by cars and buses, and the infrastructure of the city has evolved with this. Cobbled streets have given way to roads, tram tracks are now bus lanes.”

The idea was born during PRONI’s preservation week, as a new way of presenting the archives.

Sam said: “We had so many brilliant photographs of street scenes in the collections, we wondered what it would be like to go out and take them again today, and put the two side by side.”

Locations such as the Shankill Road, City Hall and Castle Place are among those chosen to revisit. Logistically, and practically, there were certain considerations to bear in mind.

“People had to recognise the places, and we had to be able to take the photographs, so the locations needed to be accessible,” Sam said. “But we wanted to bring a splash of colour, that’s why you have buses and even a fire engine in one.

“We’ve already had plenty of feedback, and people have their own favourites, but the most popular seems to be the photo of Queen’s Bridge. However, it is the scene that has probably changed the least over the last 100 years.”

Modern inventions such as digital photography and photo editing software make it easier to merge past and present. But the intention now, as then, was to capture a moment in time and a facet of the city of Belfast.

Sam said: “You wonder what the people who took the original photographs were thinking about, and whether they realised that someone would be following in their footsteps a century later.

“And who knows, maybe someone else will come along in 2115 to add another update.”

These photographs are the latest addition to the growing online archive of images, which includes thousands of photos from several collections.

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