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11 May 2007

What will happen to the photographs

By Mike Butcher

Recently photography historians were celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Box Brownie camera, the first mass-produced camera which catalogued the lives of the Edwardians and beyond. As a result they started wringing their hands about the future of our visual history today, given that so many photos are just no longer being printed. Instead they languish on hard drives, likely never to enlighten future generations about today’s day life and culture.

Of course we could rely on Google and Flickr to archive the planet’s photos for years to come – it’s all grist to their mill – but they archive the photos we want public, not the private shots of daily family life so beloved of social historians. (And speaking as someone who inexplicably lost loads of photos from Flickr – I wouldn’t rely on them at all).

So perhaps we can breath a sigh of relief that Britain’s cutlural life is starting to be archived by an outfit that knows its onions: the British Library. But it’s not starting with pictures. Its starting with our emails and is requesting examples of romance, humour, and complaints. Yes, our adulterous missives, bad jokes and letters to B&Q are to become national treasures.

Less then 24 hours after its recent launch the web site had received more than 1,000 contributions. However, since the project is being run jointly by the British Library and Microsoft, using the Windows Live Hotmail system, you can be sure that in a hundred years time the archive will be worthless, as technicians struggle to install a crumbling copy of Vista. You have until the end of May to send yours in.

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