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Retracing the Past

Photographs allow us to explore worlds far away from us in time and space. Photos taken by an American soldier, Tom Jones, in 1957 and 1958 recently made the rounds among Taiwanese net users who were taken aback at how different Taiwan looked then and now. It’s not that nobody can remember, it’s that the changes happened so gradually that nobody realized how different the country had become. Imagine rice fields where Taipei 101 stands today; imagine rikshaws taking the place of the city’s ever-present taxis; imagine bound feet instead of high heels.


1958, meet 2013


I set out on a mission to find some of Tom Jones’ photos and retake them as they appear today. It was much more difficult than I expected, and I ended up only succeeding with two of them — and one was only a partial success. The photo above is located on Zhongshan N. Rd., Section 3. The photo below is the one taken by Tom Jones; roll your mouse over it to see today’s version (You may have to wait a few seconds). Click the picture to see the location in Google Maps.


The second photo I went after was much more challenging. I never did find the exact spot Tom Jones took his photo almost 60 years ago, but I found two very similar ones that are almost the same. Here are the composites:


From Chinese Culture University

As you can see, the second location looks a lot more likely. Once again, roll your mouse over for before-and-after, and click for Google Maps. (The photo was taken from the 6th floor of this building.)

I cheated on the third picture I took. One, it was super easy since it’s one of Taipei’s most obvious landmarks (the Red House at Ximen). And on top of that, it wasn’t taken by Tom Jones. This picture is much, much older, dating back to the Japanese era of Taiwan’s history.


Here’s the before and after:


If you want to see all of Tom Jones’ photos, you are unfortunately out of luck. The photos have disappeared from the Internet, but the good news is that a portion of them have been backed up. Michael Turton of the View from Taiwanblog posted about 70 of them to flickr, so click here to check them out.

To listen to my quest to take this pictures, listen to last week’s Occidental Tourist!

On an unrelated note, today is my last blog post as I am relinquishing the last of my RTI duties before March. It’s been great to work here, and hopefully my photos will continue to show up as I share them with Paulaandrewshirleyyutinatalieshih-hanjohn. Thanks for everything, RTI! And of course, I’ll remember my time here through the photos I’ve taken. Just for good measure, here’s the front of our building:

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