The Plant Conservation Unit’s historical and repeat photography archive of southern African landscapes, is collectively referred to as rePhotoSA. The project has two main objectives. The first is to create an easily-accessible archive of historical landscape photographs of southern Africa from the 19th and 20th centuries that preserves these collections for future generations. The second objective is to build a new, matched set of photographs by standing in the same place as the original photographer and capturing the same view as before. This approach, which is referred to as repeat photography, has been used for many years as a research tool for documenting long-term changes in the environment. It provides a unique long-term perspective on how the environment is being transformed around us in response to changes in climate and land use. It is a powerful monitoring tool because it taps into the distinctively human characteristic that to really appreciate change, we need to see it. Seeing is believing!
Southern Africa is fortunate to have a long history of landscape photography. There are thousands of historical landscape photographs of southern Africa available from the early and mid-20th century. Bringing all these historical photographs into one collection allows us to document changes in the environment including shifts in land cover, habitat condition, plant population density and much more. Once the historical photograph has been repeated, it is then possible to compare the past condition to the present to assess the nature, rate and extent of change. Based on the pattern of change evident in the matched photograph pairs and the analysis of other relevant data such as rainfall and stocking rate, something about the cause of change can also be inferred.
Through generous contributions made by various individuals and organisations the Plant Conservation Unit has digitised many thousand historical photographs of southern African landscapes. With the help of students and colleagues, a few thousand images have now been repeated. A comparison of the changes evident in the photo pairs has subsequently been used to deepen our knowledge on issues such as desertification, bush encroachment, land use change and the long-term survival of threatened plant species such as cycads. On this website you can browse our collection of repeat photographs, and view a list of our publications that make use of repeat photography. These images were taken by many different students, colleagues and citizen scientists over several decades with the earliest repeat photographs in the collection having been taken in 1989.
We need your help in rephotographing the images currently in the collection. rePhotoSA is designed to allow you to easily access and download historical photographs and the information you will need to find and repeat them. After you've taken a successful repeat, it's just as easy to upload your matched photograph and associated metadata so that others can see what you've done.
As they say, “many hands make light work”, so the repeat photographs that you take will help grow the collection more rapidly and make a valuable contribution towards understanding how our magnificent landscapes are changing and help in their future management and conservation.