George Bradford Brainerd was a 19th-century photographer and this project is dedicated to his memory.
Image via George Bradford Brainerd

Today I present two new films. The first is “New York Then and Now: A Tribute to George Bradford Brainerd.” In the short film I have included all 28 of my present day photographs that show the same locations in Brooklyn and New York, and angles as George Bradford Brainerd’s images from between 1872 and 1887. Brainerd was a pioneer in early photography, and you can read more about him on my website. Many of these images were previously featured on my website this past April, including a video trailer.

The second film is a documentary that goes in-depth into the above video, revealing how I was able to locate and shoot each photograph. I’ve also included details about each of the photos, and am excited for everyone to share in my adventure!

Thank you to everyone I have mentioned in the credits of the films, including Chris Collins from indiemusicbox.com, Charles B. Lawlor for writing the end credits music I performed for the behind the scenes documentary and Frederic Bernard for performing music composed by Claude Debussy. I sincerely hope this project helps more people learn about George Brainerd’s forgotten accomplishments.

Retrospective

Jordan Liles added this retrospective on June 18, 2024.

One of the highlights of my life was the creation of this project in honor of George Bradford Brainerd. I knew I wanted to do something impactful with the new DSLR camera I purchased in 2012. I stumbled upon articles talking about how some photographers attempt to capture photos in the same locations other photographers snapped pictures decades before.

Finding the oldest possible photos of New York was a central focus for this project. I didn’t want to simply shoot photos to compare to other picturees from the 1920s, 1930s or 1940s. I wanted to go back as far as possible. When I found Brainerd’s 19th-century photos, I felt I found what I needed.

Riding my bike around Brooklyn and Manhattan on weekends in 2013 and 2014 was such a joy.

I remember one Saturday morning in particular in the spring of 2014 when the temperature was just right and the sun was at a perfect angle. I was in Brooklyn Heights. For anyone unaware, Brooklyn Heights is one of the most beautiful areas for historic homes in all of Brooklyn.

It took me a few years but I eventually released a side-by-side version of all of the photo comparisons I created with Brainerd’s pictures. I released this version only after I figured out it was the best way to present the project. Also, I can’t tell you how many people requested a better version because I lost count.

If you want to see the best possible version of this project, the side-by-side version is the best I can offer.

Old Comments

The following are comments originally posted under this article before this website was moved to its new location. I copied and pasted these comments in June 2024, so the number of years reflects that time period.

Michael Mazalewski – 6 years ago

Thought someone may find this interesting: I have the Brainerd Camera illustrated in your post (the one Pat’d Dec 1, 1885. It is printed on the inside of the case that it is “The Brainerd and Levison hand camera” made by Levison and Lamb MFG Co. Very interesting to think it may be a camera Brainerd used!!!

Jordan Liles – 6 years ago

Hi Michael. Wow! That is amazing. Are you able to take any photographs of it? Is there any other writing? Feel free to contact me via my contact form.

Frederic Bernard – 7 years ago

I watched both videos. Some superb content which is very relaxing to watch!

Thanks for giving my credit.
Frederic

https://www.fredericbernardmusic.com

Rowan T. Cregan – 9 years ago

It’s especially striking to me to see so many places that I know. I have lived in Flatbush for most of my life and worked in the Downtown Brooklyn area for 17 years. I suppose that a frequent comment will be to point out that Brooklyn was a separate city from NYC until 1898. So Brainerd photographed around Brooklyn’s own City Hall, which became the modern Borough Hall. Public School No 1 became PS92 in modern times and the Flatbush Town Hall served as the NYPD 67 Precinct until the 1960’s. But Brainerd appears to have died young. I have read that early deaths, suicide,and insanity were unusually common among 19th century photographers due to the constant exposure to toxic photographic chemicals in the years before the invention of rubber gloves. Henry Adams’ wife, Clover, may have been such a victim. This is a fascinating work, especially to an old Brooklynite who attends Holy Cross Church and remembers the Garfield’s Cafeteria.

Jordan Liles – 9 years ago

Thanks Rowan! You mention so many places that are in the memory of Brooklyn’s residents. It would be incredible to be able to step back in time just for one day, just to have a look around. That’s part of what I try to do with my work.

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