MENOMONIE — Surrounded by antique cameras, vintage furniture and framed black-and-white photographs, David Tank paged through an album of old postcards.
Some of the postcards, most of which are from the early 1900s to about 1978, had notes written on the back in swirling cursive. Others were blank.
The cards showcased some familiar sites — the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers, Wilson Park and UW-Eau Claire — but some of the Chippewa Valley scenes were almost unrecognizable.
“They’re almost all from Ebay,” Tank said of the postcards. “Postcards are not (found) in the city that they’re about, because people sent them.”
One postcard showing Big Falls that he found online came from Mumbai, India, he said. Most cost about $3 to $4.
Tank, an author and photographer, has become a postcard connoisseur and has taken it upon himself to recapture the Chippewa Valley scenes featured in the postcards one by one. The past and present photos are combined in his newest book, “Postcards from the Past: Then & Now Pictures of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.”
While he shoots the updated photos using a modern camera, Tank’s Menomonie photo studio — which is modeled after studios from the 1890s and full of old gear, photos and decor — seems a fitting home base for the then and now photographer.
The photo book chronicles more than a century of changes to Eau Claire through the vintage postcards paired with pictures of the identical scene today. There are nearly nearly 100 pairs of images, each with a short description of what the viewer is seeing in the pictures.
Tank said he thinks of it as time travel.
“I love to think OK, the original photographer is standing here taking the picture. What happens if suddenly he’s transported to today? What’s he now seeing through his viewer without moving a step?” he said.
His goal is to be as precise as he can with the pictures, without having to do too much digital editing.
In an effort to track down the locations and background information, “I spend a lot of time with the city directories and old maps,” Tank said.
While there’s been a lot of physical changes to the area over time, one thing that stood out to Tank was the amount of trees today.
“It’s crazy when you try and reshoot these how many trees are in the way,” he said. “... Some of the scenes are litearlly impossible to reshoot today because the trees are in the way.”
The Eau Claire “Postcards from the Past” book is Tank’s third venture into then and now photography. His first “Postcards” book, published in 2015, focused on Menomonie, and another focusing on Dunn County was released this past June.
All the photos in the Eau Claire book were shot in 2016.
Tank said he’s now working on a Fond du Lac then and now book. Though Fond du Lac is his hometown, the photo project started somewhat by accident during a trip to Tennessee.
“Last March we were traveling and we were in in Memphis and at an old architectural antique store,” he said. “While we were in there the owner came up to me — knowing nothing about me at all — and said, ‘Would you be interested in some old postcards? We just got a box in.’”
As it turned out, the box contained more than 40 postcards from Fond du Lac.
“So I’m like OK, I guess I’m doing Fond du Lac next,” Tank said with a chuckle.
That book is expected to be out in spring 2017, he said.
Tank said he has had an interest in photography for most of his life and spent years shooting pictures for newspapers, magazines and other organizations. He also enjoys 3-D photography.
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