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Connecting the past to present tougher than it looks

By Christina Zdanowicz, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS

Editor's note: This story is part of the iReport Weekend Assignment project, in which the CNN iReport community takes on a special-skills challenge once a week. Last weekend's challenge was to link the past with the present in a fun photo project.This weekend, we're challenging you to see how far $10 can go. Head to CNN iReport to join the fun and learn a little something while you're at it.

(CNN) -- Kneeling down, holding up a piece of paper just steps away from the Alamo, a man with a gun and badge drew the suspicion of three guards.

In a crowded scene of tourists milling about and a reenactment in full swing, detective Oren Skurnik was trying to line up a 1930s photo of two boys at the Alamo with the present-day scene. He was snapping the photo of a photo all in the sake of matching up the past and present.

"I'm standing there with this photo in my hand, looking like a weirdo," Skurnik said. "It was kind of funny really, since I'm sure it looked strange to have a guy holding up a piece of paper and taking tons of photos of it. I'd watch me, too."

Skurnik connects Alamo's history to present

People walked through his shot constantly. Guards kept throwing him curious stares. The perfect angle eluded him for 20 minutes, as the monument had been renovated in 1960. Despite it all, Skurnik got a kick out of the first-time experience.

"Aside from the joy of doing this and the humor of trying to find a way of not getting knocked down by people, it was really a cool thing to do," he said. The activity reinvigorated his passion for photography after eye surgery almost four years ago pressed him to put the camera down. In fact, he has plans to go around San Antonio, Texas, snapping more of these photo montages.

The idea of merging the past and present is anything but new. While folks have been photographing in this style for years, many iReporters were newcomers to the practice. Skurnik and more than 100 iReporters tried their hand at lining up historic photos with the current-day scene last weekend. The inspiration for this adventure came from the "Looking Into the Past" group on Flickr, a photo-sharing Web site.

Jason Powell established the group about a year ago after rediscovering the photographic archives of the Library of Congress. He said he was also inspired by Flickr user Michael Hughes' photographs matching souvenirs to popular sites around the world.

Tips from an expert
Jason Powell, leader of the "Looking Into the Past" group on Flickr, offered up a flurry of tips for newcomers with a bit of laughter.

"The thing that most surprised me when I started was the amount of pictures taken from the middle of the road," he said. "Bring somebody that can keep you from getting run over. You're looking through a camera and not seeing all the cars."

Besides bringing a spotter, here are some of Powell's suggestions: Avoid windy days that make the photo flap around. Look at the street view on Google maps to see if there's still a part of the image there. Anchor the image on an actual point without covering up the whole scene.

And it's not all about using photographs of old buildings and architecture, Powell said. When the group started, he never thought of connecting images of past generations sitting on porches and walking through town squares. It's inspired the group creator to try it with his own family photos.

Powell started off with a handful of shots in Leesburg, Virginia, lining up old photos with the present-day scene. He posted the photos on Flickr and got enough positive feedback to inspire him to start the group on Flickr, now 2,750 members strong.

Explore history on Looking Into the Past Flickr group

The network engineer took up photography four years ago as a way of getting out of the house, but he says it's his passion for history that's been the driving force behind the hobby.

"I'm the nostalgic type that looks at an old photograph and says, 'Man, I wish I would have been there,' " he said. "This is all about nostalgia and time travel."

The resident past-meets-present expert says he's excited when new photographers bring their personal spin to the project. After taking part in the CNN iReport Weekend Assignment, 50 to 60 new submitters joined the Flickr effort. Powell even took part in the challenge alongside iReporters.

A sunny day in Washington, D.C.

Conrad Steinhauer digitally edited images of his family members into a recent photo of his father's boyhood home in Fresno, California.

His aunt Claudine made the suit she's wearing in a photo taken of her in the 1940s, he said. A small portrait of his family taken a few years before stands as a reminder that the Steinhauers once lived there. Someone else lives in the white-sided bungalow now, he said.

"When I was growing up, I remember them talking about the house on C Street," he said. Steinhauer never lived at the house, but he does go back to visit it from time to time to see how the neighborhood has changed.

Going back in time at house on C Street

"It was a very family-oriented area with rows and rows of houses," he said. "Now it's pretty desolate. A lot of the homes have been torn out."

While Steinhauer saw the change of time first-hand, some iReporters found that the landscape in other parts of the world retained structures from ancient times.

Lining up a Roman archive photo with the ruins of the Coliseum was impossible for Alison Victoria because the original vantage point doesn't exist anymore. It was also difficult to focus on both images at the same time, she said, with a camera in one hand and the photograph in the other.

Victoria enjoyed embarking upon this first-time photo adventure, hopping around the ancient city on the train with Buster, her canine companion. Together, they discovered that Rome has become a lot busier in this day and age.

Cars and tourists cluttered her images, a contrast to the quiet, empty scene in the 100-year-old images. "Rome seemed like a smaller town in those days at the turn of the century when you just saw the locals standing around," she said.

Step back in time in Rome

"The surroundings have changed, but the city itself is the eternal city," Victoria said. "The people change, but the monuments stay the same. They're the same as they've been for a few centuries."

Unlocking the rich, hidden past of Bhutan became Deki Dorji's goal in traipsing around the capital of Thimphu. She dug into family photos and images from the British Library and the Bhutan National Library for inspiration.

"It was definitely challenging looking for old photos online and in libraries," the past-present novice said. "In Bhutan, we only started opening doors to the outside world in the 1970s."

A wooden bridge near the Tashichho Dzong fortress stands virtually the same since its photo in 1905 among rolling mountains and lush foliage. Dorji says her country has strived to preserve as much of its culture and historic landmarks as possible.

Bhutan remains unchanged over time

"When I was taking these pictures, I couldn't find drastic change in the surroundings or buildings," she said. "You could go back 100 years and see the same thing. It hasn't changed very much."

The 24-year-old joked that most of the photos were way older than her. "Most of the pictures I used were all taken before I was born, and it was a great way to learn about the past," she said.

For Skurnik, the photography exercise was a way to learn about local history and spend time falling in love with his city.

"Not being a native San Antonian, it gave me an opportunity to reconnect slightly with the excitement one feels when experiencing a city for the first time," he said.

 
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