Artist Merges Philly History and Photography

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    Digital artist Eric Nagy merges historical Philadelphia scenes from the past with the present.

    "It started out just for fun and has taken on a life of its own," said Nagy, who is a self-described history buff.

    He scours the Library of Congress (LOC) for old images of Philadelphia. The LOC archives permit the public's use of images. When Nagy comes across unique photographs, he prints them out on letter-size paper and walks to the same present day locations in the city.

    After lining up the old image with the current scene, Nagy uses his Nikon P510 camera to capture a new photo from the same angle and then merges the two images.

    "The key is finding a really good image to work with. When I do, it just gives me goosebumps," said Nagy.

    One such great image was that of two men walking along Kelly Drive in the early 1900s. Nagy described the two men as having had a hard life.

    "Those guys have so much character. Neither have lived a very easy life and are kind of rough around the edges. It just speaks Philadelphia," he said.

    Nagy shot a color photo that juxtaposed the same location to where the men were walking. The new merged image drew the contrast to the old image as the new one that shows current day street signage and a runner wearing shorts, a common scene along the present day Schuylkill River pathway.

    Nagy calls the process "hybrid photography." He doesn't alter or enhance the photographs, but fuses the two authentic images together on his computer. Nagy shares his work through his Philadelphia Hybrid Photography Facebook page. Atop the Facebook posts, he includes historical facts about the locations. In addition to Facebook, he has a Philly hybrid photo website showcasing his work and an option for purchase.

    To date, Nagy has created 130 hybrid photos, although he does not consider himself a photographer.

    "I'm more of a digital artist. The last thing I call myself is a photographer. Photography is my means to build up things on my computer," Nagy said.

    He was drawn into the hybrid photo project after seeing a news story nearly two years ago about a photographer who revisited scenes from World War II and started a project called "Ghosts of History." Nagy thought, 'Why not duplicate the process with scenes around Philadelphia?"

    The New York City native is a graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia. He lived in South Philadelphia after graduation before moving to Swedesboro two years ago for the suburban life. Nagy loves Philly and says his project is a way to cultivate his admiration for the city that became his second home.

    Nagy's camera retails for about $249. He says he isn't ruling out getting a better camera model "down the road," but for now the one he has works for him. It's a testament to his creativity. 

    Nagy doesn't plan to quit his day job as a designer, but does plan to keep exploring this artistic and educational blast from the past. Nagy defines it as "a different take on the before and after concept. Exact same place, completely different eras."

    Contact Sarah Glover at 610-668-5580, or follow @skyphoto on Twitter.