Is everybody already familiar with Andrew Sullivan‘s “View From Your Window” project? If not, he’s been posting reader-submitted photos with place names as a regular feature in his blog, and in the past year he’s been running a VFYW contest each week, where he posts a photo and readers submit guesses as to the location. The Letter and I submitted an entry for last week’s contest, and came really really close to winning. Here’s the VFYW photo:
He helpfully provided a clue: “The city name is also a fairly common name for an English-speaking woman.” The buildings looked European to me, and I knew about the city of Nancy in France, so I did a Google Image search for that location. You can do the same, and if you scroll down you will run across this image:
Check out the hills in the background in this image and the contest photo. Has to be the same view, right? That’s what I thought. This image is from the Russell Sturgis collection of 19th century architectural photos in the archives at Washington University. There wasn’t much to go on other than it was taken in Nancy – the image description just said “Box 42”. Mr. Sturgis was quite the shutterbug. This was pretty exciting though; I usually have no idea where these VFYW contest photos are located. Once I guessed “Paris” and that turned out to be right, and in another case guessed “Africa” and was right again, but usually the winning entry can identify the building and window from which the photo was taken. Identifying the continent is somewhat lacking in precision. I called The Letter right away, knowing that he is a Dish fan and would provide much needed attention to detail and follow-through in the painstaking effort required to identify our photo’s precise location. I certainly had no intention of doing so; it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon! Letter was out on one of his bike rides, but cycled by later on to take a look. He said, “You know the city, what more do you need? Just send it in!” I told him there was more to it than that. The winners usually include the location of the window from which the photo was taken. He said something on the order of “you’re crazy – we’ll never find that”. But I could tell that he was already hooked. Trying to solve a puzzle that involves web-search savvy? The Letter is your boy. I had identified one landmark visible in the photo – the antenna up on the hill is at the Aerodrome. And we thought we maybe found the location of the tall gray buildings off in the distance. You can kind of see a church steeple not too far away, and Google Maps identified the zillions of churches in Nancy for us. Now that we were getting our bearings, we figured a house-to-house search using Bing and Google maps would eventually get us to our building’s location. We parted ways, and both went about our searching independently. I spent about a half hour zooming in on all the dark-tile roofed buildings with red-tile roof buildings close by that I could find, but none of them matched the details we could see in the original photo. They went in big for these alternating roof tiles in Nancy. I said to myself (because the cat was outside), “Shoot! – I’ll never find this darn thing.” I was composing an email to that effect when The Letter called. He said, “I found it.” Here’s the Google Map satellite view:
Letter used Bing’s (have to say it; nicely done) Bird’s Eye View, and found the tall gray buildings in a different location than initially thought. With that, he triangulated to the general location of our view, the Maxeville district of Nancy, and using his native persistence, located the building. Now all we had to do was identify the window where the photo was taken, and we’d have a winning entry for sure. Problem: there’s a whole bunch of windows in this building.
Challenging! In the original VFYW picture, you’re looking through a couple of big trees, and you can just barely see down to the street to the left of the old building with dark roof tiles. Now Google had a chance to redeem itself, after being bested by Bing’s Birds Eye View. Fortunately for us, the Google Street View car had been down that side street, and had an image looking back up towards our building:
So now we have it narrowed down to just a few windows that had a view through the tall trees and could see this street. The original photo shows that evergreen tree is actually taller than the view window, so we figured it wasn’t on the top floor. Either the second floor from the top or the third. One or the other. We picked the second floor from the top:
Why didn’t we pick the window next to this one? There’s something visible in that window, a piece of furniture, possibly. No such thing is seen in the original photo. Here’s the actual window location: