Text supplied by Prof. M. Timm Hoffman, Director of the Plant Conservation Unit and custodian of the rePhotoSA project and historical photographic archive (2022)


It has taken decades for this project to evolve into its current form. Many people and institutions have been involved in its development. While there are too many to mention individually, we are grateful to all for their contributions, no matter how large or small they might have been. 

The first group of people to acknowledge is the photographers themselves, both those who supplied the historical images as well as those who took the time to relocate and retake the views. My ten years at the National Botanical Institute (now the South African National Biodiversity Institute) gave me access to the wonderful collections of historical photographs taken by early botanists such as I. B. Pole Evans, John Acocks, Denzil Edwards, Piet Roux, Eugene Moll, and many others. Numerous other collections, whether at research institutions or universities in South Africa or overseas, added to the number of historical photographs in our collection. The photographs of Homer Shantz from Arizona State University in Tucson, the CSIR’s collection and those of Stellenbosch University (Rudolf Marloth) and the University of Cape Town (e.g. Alex du Toit, Arthur Rogers, Margaret Levyns, Kenneth Howes-Howell) have enriched the database immeasurably. Other organisations, such as the Mountain Club of South Africa, have also contributed to the historical landscape views we now have available of southern Africa. It is especially the willingness of many private individuals, to make their slides available for research and education purposes, that has built the database into what it is today. There are too many individual collections to mention here but the photographs of Ulrich Nänni, Ed Granger, Keith Cooper, and Richard Cowling form the first set of images available on this website. More will follow but it will take time and effort to complete the uploads. We estimate that when completed the collection will contain more than 40,000 historical photographs of southern Africa landscapes, and perhaps even many more than this, as new collections are being accessioned all the time.

A 35 mm slide or negative needs to be turned into a digital image if it is to be widely used for research and education purposes. Many people have been involved in the digitisation process of the slides. In the early years, Lauren Davids, Dylan Williams, Nombuso Ngubane, Tim Kirsten and Tom New scanned many of the early collections. Sonto Mtolo deserves special mention as she has dedicated the last few years to building our collection of digital images.

Those people who have gone out and stood on the same place as the original photographer and who have repeated the views have turned a collection of old photographs into a living research and educational experience. A comparison of the two photographs tells us something of the changes that have occurred in the past and will help us monitor future changes. Many postgrad and postdocs students have used this approach in their theses to tell the story of environmental change in southern Africa including Amy Murray, Brett Reimers, Claire Davis, Conor Eastment, Daniel Poultney, Daniella Bonora, Desale Okubamichael, Erin Hongslo, Gabriela Fleury, Gina Arena, Hana Petersen, Joe White, John Duncan, Kim Daniels, Kirsten Gallaher, Mishak Boshoff, Mmoto Masubelele, Nicola Kuhn, Nina Zizzamia, Petra Holden, Prince Kaleme, Robyn Powell, Ruan de Wet, Sam Jack, and Zoe Poulsen. Many colleagues too have taken up the challenge and have used repeat photography to understand long-term change including Charles Griffiths, John Ward, Michael Lambrecht and Mishak Boshoff. Several citizen scientists have also contributed to the collection of repeat photographs and we hope that many others will add to the pioneering work of John Watermeyer, Clare Mortimore and Justin du Toit who have been especially prolific. 

Three people, in particular, deserve special mention for the contributions they have made to the collection of repeat photographs but also to the design and content of this site. They are: Rick Rohde, Sam Jack and James Puttick. All three have made significant contributions to the collection of repeat photographs in the database and have also helped to improve the techniques used by others in the field. I have enjoyed many field trips with Rick and his enthusiasm for repeat photography has been central to the success of this endeavour. 

The database of historical and repeat photographs has been expertly managed by several research assistants including Awot Gebregziabher, Wesley Bell, Esther Mostert, Samantha Venter and Hana Petersen. Sally Archibald helped with the initial conceptualisation of the database. The citizen science project, rePhotoSA, which was developed initially under the Animal Demography Unit’s Virtual Museum portfolio of projects, was also managed by Esther, Samantha and Hana. Rene Navarro played an integral role in developing the website for the first iteration of rePhotoSA and we are extremely grateful to him for his expertise and willingness to build a well-designed, interactive platform and to Les Underhill for his early encouragement with the project. Hana’s organisational skills and dedication to the project has been integral to the migration of the database to this new Ibali platform. 

Colleagues within the University of Cape Town have been integral to the success of this project. The Library Department has been at the centre of our efforts. In the early years, Paul Weinberg provided expert guidance on the specs to use for scanning photographs and was pivotal to the digitisation efforts of the Plant Conservation Unit. He encouraged us to apply for funding from UCT’s  Humanitec digitisation project and it is this support which kickstarted the collections which are available in digital form today. The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Mamokgethi Phakeng has also been very supportive of our efforts especially since the April 2018 fire which destroyed all of our hard copy collections. She has made funding available for our ongoing digitisation efforts and we are grateful for her interest and support. However, it is the Digitisation Unit at UCT Libraries who have made this website possible. Niklas Zimmer has been encouraging of our efforts for years and we appreciate his ongoing interest in our work. Clive Kirkwood and Renate Meyer from UCT Libraries Special Collections have also been supportive of our efforts. Sanjin Muftic deserves special thanks for his hands-on involvement in turning our complicated spider’s web of folders and spreadsheets into a finely tuned and functional website. His belief in the potential of rePhotoSA and his understanding of how relational databases can be assembled has inspired us and strengthened our belief in the importance of the project.