And Here’s What I Ate Last Night


This is the first photograph of a woman ever taken, certainly that has survived, and dates from 1840. Photography has now vanished due to its ubiquity, paradoxically  rendered obsolete by being unfettered. Like most people of my age I have a couple of shoeboxes with old photos that now belong to a different era, and have not been touched in years.

The photographs in them depict awkward frozen people standing with their hands at their sides beneath or beside statues and old buildings. My father’s photographs comprised seagulls on groynes and unrecognisable relatives scowling in back gardens. There are unspectacular shots of hills, scenery scenes taken with a cheap camera that could be anywhere, unpeopled pictures of pools and sunbeds, of no earthly interest to anyone, even the taker, places unnamed, friends forgotten, celebrations unremembered.

Now with the latest iOS update every photograph can be pinpointed in time and place, revised, recoloured, twisted, shaped and distorted, catalogued via a myriad of priorities and sent around the globe in a second.

And what do we photograph?



14 comments on “And Here’s What I Ate Last Night”

  1. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    That takes me back to developing photos with my Dad. We didn’t have anywhere for a dark room, so he had a sort of dark cupboard with folding doors. I can smell the fixer now.

  2. eggsy says:

    A lot of the shoebox oddities must be due to the nature of using roll film. You didn’t have too much of an idea how a snap would turn out, many of those “unremarkable scenery” shots probably looked quite lovely to the naked eye (this is why we had professionals) and you had to eke out your exposures (film doesn’t grow on trees, y’know) – at least until the trip was at an end and you hurriedly used up the film with random shots so you could take it to the chemist and find out where you’d been.

    Ah, analogue technology. Until ten years ago I was still developing microfilm – but forty-year old microfilm is still viewable, whereas digital image formats (and associated indexing software) forty years in the future – any takers?

  3. SteveB says:

    I don‘t see why the digital images won‘t be readable forever. But the physical media maybe not. Some of the tv stations who archived to dat tape have problems to get the machines, I know. And things like 7“ diskettes which were used in the 80s, well even 5“ diskette readers are not so common nowadays.

    By the way if admin is watching I saw a couple movies recently he might like. Neither are ‚great‘ but both interesting

    32 Paces to Baker St, plot that builds up nicely but what makes this film is the beautiful cinematography of London including jnside Barkers of Kensington

    Murder 101. very clever like the last of sheila. A professor is teaching his class how to write a thriller, at the same time as being framed for murder himself. Each lecture has a topic like plot, character, the chase scene. And each lecture mirrors exactly what is happening in the story at that point. Very meta.

  4. Peter Tromans says:

    I remember watching professional photographers in action, using film as if it grew on trees. Nowadays, we all take photos as if SD card space is infinite. So many pictures, the quality may be ace, but almost every one will probably be lost because there are too many to look at.

  5. Jan says:

    It’s as broad as its long really. We don’t dig out our old photos any more and take more digital photographs than ever before …….and don’t look at them either.

    In fact we take far more photos now to look at them far less.

  6. Martin Tolley says:

    What I always find sad is turning up old, usually Victorian/Edwardian family albums in junk shops. No names, no way of identifying anyone. Whole lives lived. Some folk formally dressed, some having fun in gardens or on beaches. Folk gathered around for weddings. Soldiers in uniforms. Babes in arms. Old women on doorsteps. So many stories lost forever.

  7. admin says:

    In today’s Variety there’s a report of filmmakers sealing micro-prints of features in glass to preserve them (feature films have a massive storage space problem). Digital formats are set to start fluctuating again, so glass, which never changes, could be the answer to the space issue.
    Don’t take heart just yet, though. The first film to be stored this way is ‘Superman’.

  8. Peter Dixon says:

    I’ve had several problems with digital media being lost – a particularly disastrous 2 months when my MAC went down and was instantly followed by my external hard drive. Six complete books with research, including one just ready to to publish and something like 6,000 photos gone and not retrievable.
    But all of my film negatives and slides still exist and can be scanned and used.
    It takes a minor computer hitch to destroy lots of data, but it would take a fire or a flood to destroy my boxes of film archive.

  9. eggsy says:

    Peter Dixon – my deepest sympathies!

    The snippet I read about feature film storage (its bulky AND flammable -and in higher humidity and temperature mould eats the emulsion carrying the image) attributed the glass storage to Microsoft. So that will be alright, then. It also sounded as though the data was digitised (very skimpy on technicals) so again we need the kit and software – original or reverse engineered – to unpack the data in the future. Oh yes, digitisation usually involves information loss. You end up with a way to simulate the original, rather than a true copy.

    Both storage medium and coding need to be robust – vellum lasts a long time but you need postgraduates to retrieve the data from something 1500 years old. At least they’re cheap. How do we second-guess the survivability of the coding format?
    And how do we find anything in the mass of data?

  10. Ian Luck says:

    A friend of mine used to dread early evenings – his neighbour would send him shots of what he’d had for dinner. My friend said that he wasn’t bothered by the food, as such, but it was always seeing the same plate and cutlery every day. However, otherwise, he got on famously with his neighbour, and didn’t have the heart to complain.

    I think that I have sent about four pictures of food to people. Once, someone sent me a picture of some stuff from Muck Donalds, (to annoy me, I suspect), so I retaliated with a picture of a chicken dish I’d made, based on the Italian Potacchio. The last one I sent was a few months back, when somebody asked me what I was having for dinner. I duly obliged, with a picture of a plateful of Whitebait and sugarsnap peas. The idea of sending food pictures every day, though – that’s just weird.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    I don’t understand the craze for food pictures unless it’s the fact that the plate doesn’t move.The old albums are definite losses. I have a genealogist friend who reminds me that you can post unidentified photos to a website called “Dead Fred” and there is every chance that someone will recognize people or places and let you know. Other than that, the military and event pictures are often sought after by museums and historians. Don’t throw away photos unless you know that no one is interested.
    My son used to tell me that film was the cheapest part of photography and you should always take the extras if you have the time – and bracket the exposure of course. The problem with the thousands of photographs is that people don’t edit. Chuck the bad and the duplicates that weren’t needed, don’t make people look at your failures.

  12. Ian Luck says:

    The picture of the lady from 1840 – she is very pretty. Now, I’m going to be careful here… Most photographs of people of that time show people who haven’t worn well. I know life was hard then, but the pictures show people whose ages are nigh on impossible to guess. There are exceptions – although much later than 1840, photographs of the poet Emily Dickinson show a very modern looking person – to the point that I saw one, and thought that it was someone playing her in a film, perhaps. Then you see pictures of ladies from the American West. Claudia Cardinale in ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ they are most definitely not. A lot, and I’m sorry, but it’s true, resemble Popeye. And again it is impossible to judge age. Photography was a great invention, and in the right hands, produced something wondrous. Man Ray’s photographs, taken in the 1920’s and 30’s, could have been taken yesterday. He often photographed himself, often in outrageous costumes – the ‘selfie’ from nearly a century ago. The filters you have on your phones – the coloured ones, not the silly animal masks – come from that time. I had a Polaroid camera in the 1980’s, and learned that if you physically manipulated the picture before it developed fully, you could impart weird effects into it. Great fun, totally random, and generally unrepeatable. Perfect. I no longer have the camera, though – it fell out of the loft as I opened it, cracked me on the head, knocking me out, and bounced down the stairs, smashing itself to bits as it did so. Possibly revenge for me not using it in the proscribed manner.

  13. Jeanette says:

    I have a copy of a photo taken in 1873 of my third Great Grandfather, he was 49 when the photograph was taken. He was a prisoner in Bedford Jail. All the best records come from the famous and infamous.

  14. Helen Martin says:

    Jeanette, lucky you. At least you can place him for sure on a certain date – more than most of us.

Comments are closed.