Re-visiting the retaken photographs of Kobe...

The original image taken in 1865

3 years ago, I visited various locations in Japan between the months of April and June to re-photograph the Challenger’s photographs. Since that time, despite living in Tokyo, I have not been back to any of them. May 8th 2010 saw me return to Kobe and specifically to the waterfalls at Nunobiki. The largest of the two waterfalls is about 15 minutes walk from behind Shin-Kobe station and it is as magnificent now as it ever was. These waterfalls were a source of controversy as the exact locations from which the photographs could have been taken were very difficult to identify. I made 4 or 5 visits in total to them and even on this latest visit, I still cannot be 100% certain on where the pictures were taken.

Judging the height

Back then, the first thing I asked myself was how high it was taken. I looked at the shape of the pool of water and the angle of looking down and tried to compare them with the view now. There was a path in front of the falls that allowed me to move up and down and using this, I could get a better idea of the height. One complication was that the lens used for the original picture could well have been a wide-angle lens and capable of seeing more than my eye could, so I had to bare this in mind. However, half way up the fall there is a ridge where the water forms a small pool. Only a certain height would allow me to see this from the same angle and this is what I took as my main reference point for the height of the shot. The wide-angle lens would account for showing the tops of the hills behind and the sky in the top of the frame.

A tempting angle to accept but too high

Judging the horizontal position

Once I had roughly determined the height, I then considered if I should be looking at the falls from a full frontal position or more acutely. To determine this, I started looking specifically at the gaps between rocks and their relationship with the falling water, looking at how far rocks obscured the flow. While doing this, I was also reminding myself of the angle of which the water was falling.

Not straightforward

Determining the same position was not a simple two-step process but more a series of moves from one to the other. After performing these moves a number of times, I came to what was a safe conclusion that I was standing in the same place as Jesse Lay (the challenger photographer). This was taking into account the dramatic change in vegetation surrounding the waterfalls. Since the Challenger visited, the surrounding area was deforested, which later caused flash floods and subsequently prompted the government to replant trees. Therefore, trees and other vegetation were a constant obstruction to determining the exact view, thereby leaving an ultimate conclusion at arms length.

My Conclusion

Doing it again

3 years on and I was now watching how someone else was going about determining the same position. I had to wonder if my approach was flawed in some way, or was I just too hasty, or even too naïve. Meg appeared to look for a position of height first but was quicker to settle on what she thought was the right height. She too, then moved to the left and to the right trying to work out whether it was an obtuse angle or acute one. To my alarm, she didn’t favor an acute angle and seemed very convinced she was right.

Comparing the original to the live view of her camera

Asking me what I thought, I mentioned that I had gone higher and stood at an acute angle. Reluctantly, she tried other possible viewpoints, comparing the original with the live view of her compact digital camera. We went to the highest viewpoint, which for a long time, I was convinced it was, but she quickly dampened that resurging theory. Finally, we returned to a position half way, looking slightly down at the waterfall, but we continued to disagree on the viewing angle.

Trees are quite an obstruction

By this time, she maintained that the angle was very acute whereas I believed it was still the position I determined 3 years ago. What prevents us from reaching some kind of compromise is that in her final picture, a large tree is obstructing the view of he waterfall. From a guestimate of tree measurement found here (, we could know that for the tree to have always been there – about 130 years – it would have to be about 325cm in circumference and from the look of the tree, it didn’t look 325cm in circumference. Ideally, we should have measured it but we believe it to be young enough to have grown since the original picture was taken.

Still can’t agree on the exact position though.

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Comment by Vernon G Stamm, MA on November 24, 2010 at 10:00am
I'm doing good, although I've not had the time to search Zamboanga City in order to compare the original photos.

Original Challenger Photos

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