From the first known photograph of the finger, to Tippi Hedren having her cigarette lit by a crow, Retronaut has it all. Founder and curator Chris Wild had created a site that shows you the past like you wouldn’t believe. Filled with pictures that are not so much of the past, as of an alternative version of “now”, the site takes the collective map of time we all have in our heads and tears tiny holes in it. Retronaut is about to announce its first book deal.
Chris has also recently launched a second site, Anywhen: a platform for archives and museums – and anyone – to share all their photographs of the past. And with Retronaut about to announce its first book deal with a very special publisher, and Anywhen announcing partnerships with some very major partners, you’d better watch this space.
Did you ever think Retronaut would become so popular?
When I started Retronaut, I got as much satisfaction from it when there were just two people looking at it as I do now. The satisfaction for me was in being able to curate cleanly and simply, and then to show that to an audience – even when that audience was just my mother and I. I had no expectations about who might look at it.
Since it’s beginnings, how has Retronaut grown?
I started Retronaut at the beginning of 2010. Now it has around 4 million page views a month, 175k Facebook fans, and 40,000 images.
Why do you think people are fascinated with the past?
I think we are fascinated by the past because it is very hard for us to imagine a version of the world in which we don’t exist. This was put very elegantly by the historian G.M. Tevelyan, who wrote:
“The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow.”
How did Anywhen come about?
Anywhen is a place for anyone to share their pictures of the past. Lots of people sent in pictures to Retonaut which didn’t fit the strap line “See the past like you wouldn’t believe” but which were very interesting in their own right. Anywhen is their home. We want to use it as a platform for museums and archive collections.
What do you think is the most important purpose of archiving?
Archiving is important because it creates the world’s back catalogue. On iTunes and Spotify, we can explore music from any time, and we can incorporate it into our lives and, if we are musicians, use it to help us create our own music. That is the purpose of the past – it is an index of the possibilities we have already explored, available to all of us as we curate our own version of ourselves and of our “now”.
What are your favourite museums?
My favourite museums are open air museums which have entire buildings, especially the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex. I love to go into the buildings there, especially the Tudor kitchen, and the fourteenth century “hovel”, I am overwhelmed by the sensory information.
Do you think today’s photographs can ever compare to those of the past?
There is really no separation between “today” and “the past”. The division between them is dependent on where you are. Imagine seeing a film of an interviewer asking someone on a London street in, say, 1963 asking, “Do you think today’s photographs can ever compare to those of the past?” It would seem to us quaint, even comical. How could they not consider themselves in the past? How could they not realise their photographic technology was extremely rudimentary? But they did not, because they were in “now”, as we are in “now”. Soon our pictures will be as fascinating as those of the past are to us. It is all a matter of perspective.
Anything new happening for Chris Wild?
We are about to announce Retronaut‘s book deal. The publisher is a very special one that we are incredibly privileged to be working with, and the first Retronaut book will be out in the Autumn of 2014. We are also signing up museums and collections to Anywhen – institutions, and individuals, will soon be able to buy their own version of Anywhen for their own site. And finally, I am spending a lot of time thinking about how to bring Retronautic ideas to music.
You can find Retronaut online:
And Anywhen here: