The books in Arcadia Publishing's "Then and Now" series contrast two photos of the same place, one current and one archival, on each page. They present the history of a place as the difference between these points of view.
The device is as effective as it is simple, and the series, which started in 1994, recently added "Salem" to its list of 130 titles.
Jerome Curley, whose family has lived in Salem for five generations, took the pictures of Salem today. Nelson Dionne, who has an extensive collection of old photographs and postcards of the city, provided historical images for the book.
"He felt he could do the 'now,'" Dionne said of Curley, "but he didn't have the 'then.'" Dionne said the two, who are both retired, met through the Salem Historical Society, which he describes as "an online bulletin board" for history buffs.
There was a third party involved, according to the co-authors. Leland Tilford, a commercial photographer in Salem in the first decades of last century, left behind a large store of images of scenes and buildings in Salem during the period in which he worked.
Over the years, Dionne said, bits and pieces of this legacy have become available through dealers and in donations to collections. Around 300 Tilford photos were recently passed to Dionne from a larger donation to the Beverly Historical Society, and these provide the bulk of the book's pictures.
Recreating Tilford's angle of vision was sometimes a challenge. In many cases, the spot from which Tilford took a picture had passed into private hands. Generous merchants gave Curley access to their roofs, and citizens let him shoot pictures from their condo windows.
In other cases, Tilford's perspective has simply disappeared. His photo of the intersection of Canal Street and Loring Avenue was taken from a hill that was dug up and used to build a runway at Logan.
More often, when a promising historical subject had been leveled, there was nothing "now" to take a picture of because it was replaced by a parking lot.
"We had to work with what was there," Curley said.
Still, there is plenty to see in "Salem," even for those familiar with the city. The longer a reader looks at its photos, the more details emerge that describe the passage of time.
The book starts on main thoroughfares, with chapters that travel "Along Washington Street" and "Along Essex Street." According to Curley, pictures in these sections are arranged in the order that the sights appear on the street. The guide to history can be used as a historical guide for someone walking through Salem.
The book also tours "Along the Coast," "Industrial Salem" and Salem "Streetscapes."
Arcadia Publishing is also bringing out a set of 15 postcards of historical Salem, using images from the book.
Readers who would like to see Curley and Dionne, to discuss the changes in Salem, can attend upcoming book signings at Barnes & Noble on March 14 from 1 to 3 p.m. and at Borders on March 28 from 1 to 3 p.m., both in Peabody. There will also be a signing at Cornerstone Books in Salem on April 3 at 7 p.m.