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

George Bradford Brainerd (1845-1887) was an innovator in the early days of photography. From my research of this matter, most of Brainerd’s contributions appeared forgotten. This project serves as a dedication to Brainerd and his many accomplishments.

Brooklyn Collection

After stumbling upon several of Brainerd’s photos while exploring the Brooklyn Collection inside the Brooklyn Public Library, I became very interested when I read that his photos date back around 140 years. Search engines provided little in the way of information about his photography. So I devised a plan to spread the word about his life in a way that people in the present day would find… “cool.”

The Plan

I decided to shoot photos in the same locations from which Brainerd captured his photographs in the 19th century, and create a way that allows people to compare 140 years of change. I edited a short video trailer with music provided by Adi Goldstein so that people have a link to share with friends and family over email, social media and text messages. See the trailer and 15 facts about Brainerd here.

Giving Back

As I move away from New York in one week, this is my way of giving back to the city that has given so much to me. I met the love of my life during my four years and three months in the city.

Special Thanks

The experience of creating this project included researching, shooting, reshooting, writing and editing. In doing all of this, I have seen that modern technology is helping in the effort to make available to the entire world historical documents and images.

The Brooklyn Museum’s online availability of George Brainerd’s images and Julie C. Moffat’s thesis made this project possible. And this is just one example of finding someone of historical importance that almost slipped through the cracks. I can’t help but wonder who the world will discover next. Who else is out there, waiting to receive his or her rightful place in the annals of history?

Update (Oct. 23, 2014): I released two new videos. The first shows all 28 before and after images. The second is a documentary going in-depth into the creation of the project.

Update 2 (Aug. 1, 2020): After receiving so many requests, I’ve released a video of the photo project with side-by-side photos.

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.

Kevin Corley – 2 years ago

Looking for any historical photos of Ridgewood, NJ taken circa 1880. George Brainerd did take photos in this area during that time period. Please advise. Thanks.

Jordan Liles – 2 years ago

Sure, look here: https://www.bklynlibrary.org/digitalcollections/items/?search=ridgewood+acn%3A%28George+Bradford+Brainerd+photograph+collection%29. There are at least eight of Ridgewood. Large versions of the images are free, but you have to request them through the library’s website. Enjoy!

Cindo – 10 years ago

Just wonderful! Maybe time machines are real?!

Corey Herlickson – 10 years ago

I am have neither been to NYC or Brooklyn nor am I am photo aficionado but these are absolutely striking photos. Thank you for taking the time to do this project. I have a degree in history with a concentration in U.S. History. This project could be of importance to teachers in the future. Great job. Found it on via www.theblaze.com.

Steven Richardson – 10 years ago

Outstanding work, Jordan. I enjoyed the New York and TN photos very much. I would love to see more places done this way, I am sure there are many out there.
Thank you.

BabLuban – 10 years ago

You passion and dedication shine. You reveal consciously what many people have dreamed of unconsciously.

No Name – 10 years ago

I enjoyed abandoned resort and the NY photos. Appreciate your time. I always wanted to live up in the mountains of Tenn near the river and the birds. Really neat.

Timmothy – 10 years ago

Amazing work. Keep it up.

Chuck Berkman, Stafford, Virginia – 10 years ago

Oh my! How outstanding! Thank you so much! I felt like I was in a time machine! Ahhhhhh!

Chris S. – 10 years ago

Great, great project. Nothing like stepping back in time and seeing “how it was.” I’m an amateur history buff on the battle of Gettysburg and make a trip down every couple years or so. My brother and I do the same thing as here. Hunting out those hard-to-reach, seldom visited areas on the battlefield (as well as the easier ones) to get the same shot as in the old pics. Keep up the good work.

Jordan Liles – 10 years ago

Oh cool. Let me know if you post your photos online and I’ll check them out!

Lynette – 10 years ago

It doesn’t matter where the pictures were taken and compared with old ones, it is all of our past
and history. I was nostalgic and never have been in these places. It is so wonderful to see a quick look of then, and now. How I appreciate your dedication to perfection! Hooray to you.

Lynette

Pete – 10 years ago

That was really cool. I work in a school district that has some pretty old buildings, one being a 100 years old and to see the photos of the people and prices to sew a dress in class was amazing. I could look at photos like these all day. Really great work, keep it up!

A fellow born in East Flatbush. – 10 years ago

I greatly enjoyed your photo comparisons to Brainerd’s. As a “kid” from Brooklyn, it was great to see what it looked like long ago. NYC is a place of constant change but many things stay the same.
From: a fellow born in East Flatbush.

G. Atsom – 10 years ago

Having grown up in brooklyn, this project is very moving and brings back wonderfol memories of magical times and history.

Tim R. – 10 years ago

A fantastic project, Jordan. It truly is a time machine to visit your site. I also loved your walk through and exploration of the Elkmont Wonderland hotel site in TN. Great work! Please keep these coming… you have my attention for sure!

Mark Bender – 10 years ago

What a treat, and what an accomplishment. Thanks.

Harvey Fishman – 10 years ago

That photo that you call P.S. 1 in Brooklyn, I grew up in that neighborhood and 65+ years ago. It was called P.S. 91 and was open. I attended P.S. 92, at the corner of Parkside and Rogers Avenues, where the old building (long since torn down) was built in 1865. I still remember the magnificent millwork and hardware in that building and that the toilets were in a shed in the schoolyard. You went through a covered shed to get to them.

Harvey

Sam – 10 years ago

Very cool project – thank you!

Soumya – 10 years ago

Good job ! Amazing to see pictures so back in time, of the times of our previous generations, and how times have changed and also the developments. Seeing these photos, i’m inspired to study cities. A very exciting project! Thank you.

Soumya

Long-term Brooklyn Heights resident – 10 years ago

Fabulous! Bravo and thank you!!

Elizabeth – 10 years ago

I absolutely love this project. Viewing these images feels like time-travel. If I could have one wish from a genie, it would be time-travel, so you can imagine how much I enjoyed looking at these. I hope you’ll do more of this sort of thing. Your dedication is impressive, as it your attention to detail. Thank you so much for doing this and for sharing it. You’ve made my day!

Chris – 10 years ago

I LOVED this!!! Thank you so much for putting it together! I enjoyed viewing it! I can see you went through great lengths to get the shots. I enjoyed reading your commentary!

Cheryl Cuddeback – 10 years ago

Jordan – this project is awesome. I admire you for working on this project, your passion and your love of the past.

Dave C – 10 years ago

Jordan, thank you for the time and effort in re-enacting the photos that George Brainerd took so long ago. It really gave a sense of history and showed how, although things have changed, some things still remain the same after all these years. May your work inspire someone 140 years from now to be the third generation of these same pictures!

Marcy K. – 10 years ago

Thanks for all your efforts my friend. I live so far removed from the subject, but gazing at your photo collection I feel you put your heart into it completely. Good job!

Jim – 10 years ago

Cool man. I love stuff like this! I do have one comment. I think the 5th photo in which has the “school” sign in it and shows Clinton Street. I’m almost certain that is in Cobble Hill, not Brooklyn Heights on the corner of Clinton and Degraw. The photo from the 1800s and might be from Brooklyn Heights, showing Montague Street and Clinton Street. The church in the distance may be St. Ann’s which is still there, although the steeple has been removed. They had to take down the steeple when the subway came to Brooklyn, because the vibration from the trains was shaking the steeple structure apart.

Kathy Braddy – 10 years ago

Awesome photography, Jordan! Your detail is fantastic. I have shared the YouTube video with my friends on Facebook, letting them know that for, “those of you from New York, that may have lived in or traveled to Brooklyn extensively, you are in for a treat.” I, too, love and respect history and you have honored George Brainerd with your attention to detail, particularly with the shadows cast.

Rachel – 10 years ago

This is seriously awesome. I love history and this was fascinating. Thanks so much for all your hard work with this!

Peter B – 10 years ago

WOW — I’m impressed and a bit in awe of the original photographs and more so your efforts to recapture those places in a different time. I too love to go to old/historic locations and just look and imagine what it may have looked like in a time long, long ago — love this project!

Best,
Peter

Mike – 10 years ago

Mr. Liles,

Yahoo brought me here as I was taking a break from class (Computer Science) and I must say this was well worth the 15 minutes. I shared this on my facebook and I personally would love to see more, maybe a longer video as that grasped me from the very beginning and did not let go. I live in California currently but will be moving to New Jersey in just a mere 5 months. I went to NYC for the first time after Sandy hit to volunteer. The city has a magic of its own, and after you start exploring its history does it truly come alive. Your work here is truly amazing, done with a love few can rival and does Mr. Brainerd a great deal of service and respect. I never knew of the man until now but rest assured that has changed. Thank you for doing this and I wish you nothing but the best in your future endeavors.

P.S. San Fransisco, C.A is the only city I have found in California with almost the same magic as NYC, I think you would do that city a great service if you found yourself doing the same thing.

Sincerely,
Mike
Central California

Dean – 10 years ago

Amazing work! Great job! One of my favorites is the concert grove photo. It’s probably safe to say that the large tree to the left is the same small tree from 140 years earlier. That’s pretty cool.

Nancy – 10 years ago

Beautiful works of art in both centuries. Thank you George and Jordan!!

Rudy – 10 years ago

I moved from Brooklyn many years ago, but my heart is still there. What a wonderful experience to go back in time to see the then and now of Brooklyn. I thank you for your efforts and commend you on a job well done. It truly is a work of love to have covered so much.

K.C. Stearnes – 10 years ago

Thank you!

Rock – 10 years ago

Wow! A great project. I salute you and all the effort, research, energy and funds it must have
taken.

Shannon L. Wehrendt – 10 years ago

Thank you.

You work shows a dedication to a project for purely personal enrichment, and it seeps through every photo. I have always enjoyed old photographs, especially of architecture, and I have dreamed of doing something like this myself. Unfortunately, daily life has gotten in the way. I am very pleased to see your work, and I believe it will enjoyed by generations to come. And now George will be remembered as well – so you seem to have achieved your goal.

Godspeed as you travel to your new home in San Diego. I hope to see a similar work of those wonderful places in your new town.

Unidentified Commenter – 10 years ago

Very beautiful photos. Both of the past and the present. Notice how modestly attired the women were back then. They dress like the way many Muslim women dress now.

Asher Wambold – 10 years ago

Excellent photos before and after.

Lori Zapin – 10 years ago

Fabulous! Loved the photos. Thank you.

Vin Forleo – 10 years ago

Wonderful!!

Christopher Scanlan – 10 years ago

First and foremost, THANK YOU. Also, I know that you will miss the city, at least as much if not more than me, but the city will also miss you.

Edward Barocela – 10 years ago

Excellent work!

Toni – 10 years ago

Beautiful, and thank you for sharing!

Sue – 10 years ago

Mr. Liles, I LOVED the comparative study of these NY photos! It leaves me wanting to see more! Thank you

Stewart – 10 years ago

Thanks Jordan, Your project has special meaning for me. My family came to NY back in 1823. My ancestral family home still stands on Horatio Street in the West Village. My great-great grandfather was a member of the NYS 7th Regiment (Silk Stockings) during the Civil War. Your project reminds me of when I found an original copy of King’s Views of New York from 1890 and was taken back in time.

JLawson – 10 years ago

Wow! So incredibly amazing! I often think that I grew up in the wrong era! 🙂

Unidentified Commenter – 10 years ago

These are absolutely amazing. You have done a spectacular job of recreating the original photos. I love seeing how things have changed in the past 140 years. I’m also glad I don’t have to wear corsets and long skirts all the time.

James McDonough – 10 years ago

Just want to give you a much deserved: Thank You!

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