Photography for the Future Historian

Daniela wrote an intriguing blog post on PhotoCritic titled Taking photos for the future. A historian by profession, she wrote of being asked a question, “If you could have some photographs, some snapshots, taken of Rome in the year 70, what would you ask for?” It turns out her answer has applications to today’s photographers.

[W]hat we have very little knowledge of, where we really struggle to build comprehensive understanding or paint even a vague image, is of the everyday, the prosaic, the mundane, the normal. When things are ordinary, we don’t pay any attention to them; it’s only bad news that makes the news. However, when you’re a historian, trying to construct an idea of life fifty, one hundred, one thousand, two thousand years ago, the normal suddenly becomes very important.

Daniela suggests that we might want to look behind the unusual and beautiful as subjects for our photography. Using the example of the famous London building the Gherkin, she suggests that a future historian would want photos not only of that landmark but also of the buildings on either side.

Recording the image of people queuing for the bus in the rain is important. So are the buskers, the street-sweepers, and the people handing out free newspapers. It’s possible that none of these things will exist at some point after we are long gone to tell others about them. But they are a part of our lives, and that is significant.

What photos do you take that might aid a future historian? Remember that Atget was only taking random boring photos of everyday buildings in his hometown; he never set out to construct a comprehensive view of a disappearing Paris, it just happened that way. If social history continues to have as large a role as it does lately, perhaps our family photo albums will one day give insight on how we celebrated birthdays and other social events.

Daniela’s post is thoughtful and is well worth a read for anyone who is interested in photography. I recommend it highly.


~ by David Cupp on October 3, 2008.

One Response to “Photography for the Future Historian”

  1. Hi there David – Thanks for the encouraging words, I’ve pointed Daniela to this article so she can see it as well!

    Thanks for the link, too

    – Haje

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