What makes a picture historical?

The science and endeavour that took man to the moon in 1969 is made more remarkable when you consider the technology that was available. A modern iPhone has more processing power than the entire computer system onboard Apollo 11. The authenticity of the picture of the astronauts on the moon has caused much debate but there is little doubt that this is a historical image.

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For me the idea of a historical image is somewhat broader. Almost every, if not all, pictures are historical in that they capture a moment in time. I think that the first image ever to be publicly shared on Flickr is almost as important a milestone as the moon landings. It’s a picture of a family pet (prophetic given how many cat/dog pictures there now are). Flickr opening to the public heralded the start of a social change that is still happening today – people are taking and sharing more images than ever before. Phones have become cameras that happen to be able to make calls.

Sharing pictures online is great. My family are spread across the country and so the only way they get to see my baby daughter is through facebook and Skype. For me this is what social media is about. The problem comes when there is no moderation, no way of filtering out the junk and only seeing what’s really good. The ‘digital soup’ has been left unattended too long and it’s starting to boil over the top but no one seems to care. There is so much out there to look at that a photographer can go undiscovered their whole life. I suspect that in years to come some bored student will be trawling the web and will discover the next Vivian Meier, to late for the chance to enjoy success.

Who is to judge which of the billions of images online can be considered historical?  In decades to come will photography students be crouched around their holo-screens cooing in awe at a picture of a fluffy kitten in a shoe – the last picture ever posted on Flickr.


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