19 January 2018
If you look very closely at the above photograph (left) you will see two small human figures; one man having his shoes cleaned by another. It is titled ‘Boulevard du Temple’ and was taken in 1838 by Louis Daguerre. It is the first known photograph to feature a person. A year later, in Philadelphia, Robert Cornelius produced the first self-portrait (right). Modern digital photography relies upon immediacy; in the 1830s the process was laborious and prone to error. Daguerre and Cornelius accepted failure and the need to keep trying.
One of the perks of my new role – aside from the opportunity to read the LA policy on gritting and snow ploughs– is that I can access the school archive. It contains collected memorabilia from 1901 onwards and amongst the cast lists, public speaking events and school reports are a number of photographs. Sports team and form classes. Musical ensembles and prize winners. Black blazers with red stripes. Orange PE kits. Quiffs, bobs, side burns and mullets. In each image the students look towards the camera and obvious questions occur to the viewer; Is it a treasured photograph that they have a copy of at home? Were they happy at school? Successful? Did they go on to lead a fulfilled life?
In assemblies this week I have been sharing a number of the photographs with students. Whilst fashions may change, the pictured students are part of a continuum, stretching through 117 years. They too sat in assemblies; they too looked hopefully at falling snow. The difference being that former students can only look back; they can only reminisce. The school’s current students have the advantage of time; what they choose do now can alter the remainder of their time at the school. What will they think when they look back at photographs taken in 2018?