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Internet History - Mining Dead Photo Accounts for Treasure

internethistory.tumblr.com
For as long as social media has been around, photo album sites have been around for that tiny little bit longer. In a way, they were one of the prototypes for it, along with forums and early web journal sites. They're also a prominent example of a technological trend that existed for quite a while before people actually started to understand the best way to use it.

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More to the point, as the times have moved on, a vast majority of people have abandoned their accounts, Facebook and Instagram having eliminated any real need for them. As such, there must be thousands of defunct accounts across Flickr, Photobucket and all the others with all kinds of weird and wonderful images housed therein. Well, on his Internet History Tumblr page, Doug Battenhausen has committed himself to collecting them, and the results speak volumes.

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The thing about Instagram and its contemporaries is that they've made competent-looking photo editing easy, even the least photographically knowledgeable people can make touch a photo up with ease. The problem with that is that when you make something that easy, it loses any real meaning. Instagram has, by and large, become pretty sterile, you can search a particular hashtag and spend half an hour scrolling through pictures that are exactly the same. Internet History calls back to the days of the kind of haphazard photography that, without the benefit of context, could pass for abstract art.

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Battenhausen sticks almost uniformly to accounts which have been completely abandoned (although he still credits the user in every post), increasing the chance of finding something particularly obscure. Often if you knew the story behind the image, it would probably ruin the mystique, since the feeling they create by themselves entirely depends on not really knowing what's going on, or what the motivation was. Sometimes you can kind of tell, like a badly set up piece of shadow puppetry or a passing snap of a funny road sign, but it still has that air of a photo album you might dig out on a post-apocalyptic scavenger hunt.

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Scrolling through photos on Facebook, by its very nature, can never feel like this. You're always provided with all the information you need and more, same with Instagram, to say nothing on the unspoken impetus on making the images you upload look 'clean'. A slightly blurry snap of a family barbecue with a thumb creeping into the frame might be more flawed, but it feels more human, it didn't use to be so easy to just retake a picture over and over until you get it right.

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As well as the standard photo album sites, Battenhausen has collected some images from older photo editing sites like the no longer existent Blingee, which allowed people to turn images into sparkling, text-covered GIFs. Battenhausen was particularly interested in the ones made to memorialise a dead loved one, and there are a lot of them. They are profoundly bizarre. Internet History archives a fascinating midpoint in online culture, just as the internet was collectively settling into the idea of posting photos online for other people to see. There was function, but no form, and in a way this offered a much clearer insight into people's lives than tagging and sharing ever has, or ever will.


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Internet History - Mining Dead Photo Accounts for Treasure Reviewed by Callum Davies on Thursday, September 10, 2015 Rating: 5

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