The [One-way] Time Machine

These pictures, taken more than 20 years apart, demonstrate the truth of the old adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.


Ever since the publication of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine in 1895, the concept of traveling back and forth to different eras has gripped the human imagination.

The idea of time travel has been explored in hundreds of books, comics and movies. The two that spring immediately to mind are Back to the Future, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

But perhaps the man who has come closest to inventing a workable, practical “time machine” is George Eastman. Although he didn’t invent photography, with his “You press the button, we do the rest” idea he certainly made it popular, bringing it withing reach of the everyday man.

eastman kodak you press the button we do the rest
An early advertisement for George Eastman’s Kodak camera – the world’s first practical time machine.

Unfortunately, Eastman’s time machine can only travel in one direction – backwards. A machine that can transport us to the future remains elusive.

All this musing about time travel was really triggered by a short trip to the Golden Gate area of South Africa’s eastern Free State highlands. On this trip we stayed at the Sunnyside Guest Farm, near the town of Clarens, just as we as had done a couple of decades previously.

When I looked at the pictures I took on this most recent trip, I was immediately struck by how similar they looked to the pictures I had taken on previous visits to the region. But all the previous pictures were taken on analogue film cameras.

As I was looking at the new pictures, I kept being reminded of the old ones, and I had the distinct feeling that going back to Golden Gate was a bit like going back in time. Then I decided to actually dig up some of the scans I’d made some time ago of shots from previous trips to Sunnyside and the Golden Gate Highlands nature reserve.

swimming pool at sunnyside guest farm clarens eastern free state
The top picture shows my older daughter sitting on the slasto stone surround of the swimming pool at Sunnyside Guest Farm. The lower picture shows my younger daughter diving into the same pool more than 20 years later.


composite 006
There are no horses at Sunnyside today, but these pictures, although taken decades apart, show essentially the same scene.


composite 005
The lower (modern) picture is much more pleasing because it doesn’t have the same awkward crop that chops off the top of the massif.


composite 004
While the P.o.V., camera, lens, time of day, and season may all differ, these two pictures are of the same sandstone formation.

What bothers me about the similarity of so many of my Golden Gate pictures is the thought that maybe I haven’t progressed at all as a photographer despite the advancing years. But, on a more positive note, the similarities may be due to being moved by the same sense of wonder I feel on every trip to this awe-inspiring place.

I’ll conclude this post with a couple of shots from my recent trip without reference to past journeys.

Sandstone formation in Golden Gate Highlands National Park
This is a closer view of the sandstone formation pictured above
dam wall
For me, no visit to Golden Gate nature reserve would be complete without a visit to “my” dam. The water level was lower than I’ve seen in previous visits because of the drought that has gripped the interior of South Africa this summer. We’ve had some good rains in Johannesburg since then, and I hope these have extended to areas further afield. This dam is the subject of another blog entry you can read here.

©2016. All images copyright Grahame Hall and may not be used without my written permission. Please respect the rights of others.

3 thoughts on “The [One-way] Time Machine”

  1. My question would be, were you there in a landscape photography capacity, or a family holiday one?

    If you’re on holiday with non photographers it can be very hard to stay in one spot long enough get into a creative groove. I’ve experienced this both as the photographer, and as the one being held up by the photographer. 😉 When you first step out of the car, you can’t help but gravitate to viewpoints that yielded good results last time. If five minutes later you’re jumping back in the car, it’ll be hard to come away with something new.

    Saying that, I have a couple of observations. In one of the captions, you write, “While the P.o.V., camera, lens, time of day, and season may all differ, these two pictures are of the same sandstone formation.” I would respectfully suggest that the field of view is actually fairly similar, and that while the seasons differ, all the shots are in broad daylight.

    Some ideas:
    I’m not familiar with the location but is there any chance of being there over sunrise/sunset without putting yourself in danger?
    Is it possible to get right up to the sandstone formation and create some detail shots of the rock itself?
    Do a bracketed shot on a tripod and combine them together to create a HDR version of the landscape.
    Get lower to the ground and focus on the grass itself, allowing the mountains to be an out of focus backdrop.
    How about shooting with an ultra wide angle lens, or a 200mm? I’m not talking about a small sensor cropping to an “effective” 200mm, but using an actual 200mm lens.
    Use a 3 or 10 stop ND filter to give long shutter speeds, blurring grass and sky.
    Use a polariser to give unfeasible blue skies.

    A lack of new ideas at your favourite landscape spot does not mean that your photography overall has stood still; as you say it’s probably that the location brings out a certain reaction and your photography is just echoing that.

    Finally, if you’d rather just enjoy the location rather than fuss about with a camera, there’s no harm in that either. Maybe just a quick selfie to document that you and whoever else were there at a certain time and date. All IMHO of course. 🙂

    1. Geez, Gavin, cut me some slack here, please. Total time in Clarens / Golden Gate area this trip: Arrive ex. JNB: Tues. 05-01-16; aprox. 11h00. Depart for JNB: Thurs. 07-01-16 aprox 14h00. Total time: 1 afternoon, 1 full day (including hours of darkness), 1 morning. Average daytime temp during stay: 35 degrees Celsius! It wasn’t all disaster. All your suggestions are good ones, but one actually needs to spend a couple of weeks here and explore different rock formations at different times of day, particularly morning and afternoon golden hours. Lower temperatures would help. BTW, the bottom shot is a close up of the rock formation in the pics you say are the same P.o.V., but the cell phone wide angle lens makes it appear further away. It’s impossible for me to enjoy a location without taking pics – I have to pics. even if I think I’m wasting my time. I don’t just mean in Golden Gate, I mean wherever I go. If I’m “there”, I’ve gotta shoot something. Anything? 🙂

      1. Oops – no lack of slack intended – clearly it came across differently than intended. Sorry. I was attempting (and failing) to say, go easy on yourself. With a lack of time and harsh temperatures, not many of us would find new approaches to a favourite spot.
        The second part was meant to be ideas for things you could try if you DID have the time.
        Once again, apologies. If I thought something negative about someone else’s I would never tell them. I was in this instance, trying to provide a counterpoint to your own concerns re. a perceived lack of progress.

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