I love sharing before and after shots. They are so effective at capturing the sum total of a whole lot of work and subsequently are great inspiration. I never really considered whether or not the whole concept and tool was being used before photography. If I thought about it, I would have guessed not. But British landscape designer Humphry Repton used the concept with his clients back in the late 1700’s. Is it possible he was the first designer to use the before and after graphic device? I have no idea….but I am absolutely fascinated to pour over the drawings he created as part of his client presentations.
These drawings were created as part of each clients ‘red-book’ which was a red leather-bound book that he created for each project. All the drawings needed for the project was in the book and it typically included a sketch (or piece of art) of the existing conditions as well as the proposed final outcome.
Not only that, but if you look closely you can see where he cut tabs into the drawings so that the new idea or concept could be folded back right on the page. (look closely at the two images above where you can see the outlines of the lift off tabs). I have seen some amazing artistry come from designer when they are making idea presentations….but this is perhaps the most amazing.
It also explains a few things. When in the English countryside, I have so many times marveled at how perfect it all seems. Rivers run in big beautiful arcs and the hills roll elegantly into each other with stately trees dotted around perfectly. Now I wonder if perhaps Mr. Repton had his hands all over the country….or at least all the Repton wannabes continued the job after his death.
The before scenes are by no means hideous like urban brownfield sites that are so fun to see transformed into lush gardens. But they aren’t quite as perfect as I have come to expect from England. It makes me feel better to remind myself that these gardens and views have been manipulated for centuries and that there might not be a piece of dirt in the whole country that hasn’t been altered by some decent level of skilled gardener. If you want to check out more of the contents of Humphry’s red books, you can take a virtual tour on The Morgan Museum’s website where two complete red books are presented.
I also find Repton’s wikipedia page to be quite an interesting read. They spend a good deal of effort contrasting Repton (who had no Horticultural skills but lots of talent and was a great sketch artist) to his predecessor Capability Brown. It is interesting that Repton didn’t ever execute his designs (leaving that to the client to arrange separately) where as brown did….Repton subsequently did not become wealthy as brown did. (so the message is to be a contractor, because you make more money?!? Feel free to discuss….)
I also find it really interesting that Repton was known for borrowing. For example, he would alter the landscape so that a church steeple in the distance would be part of the pastoral scene or some one else’s trees could help to frame the picturesque view.
images: The Morgan