Understanding our past through the eyes
of a camera.
By Ismail Veli
Photos and images of the past have and continue to fascinate millions that have an interest in the way of life and the world of a bygone era. Many are avid collectors of old postcards, books that are well illustrated and explain the way people lived. Old newspapers reporting events of the day are to lovers of history most fascinating. Perhaps the eagerness to try and understand how the world evolved is one way of learning about ourselves. Reading how people thought and behaved is essential in trying to understand history. It’s easy in today’s world to judge and assume the beliefs of people of the past. We often see events from today’s perspective, and with hindsight we sometimes get it right. One way of truly understanding past life and events however is to read original books and articles that give us an understanding of the world as ”they saw it”.
We need to understand that our great grandparents of the 1800 to early 1900s had little concept of what was going on in the world. With no TV, radio, internet, travel and illiteracy very high, people only got information from the few who read newspapers and the fewer who could afford to buy books. Photography itself only took off after the 1860-70s and due to ignorance, religion or both, many were nervous about allowing their photos to be taken. On the other hand some that did buy newspapers regularly were often the centre of attraction and were looked upon by friends and family for news of ”the outside world”.
Coming across original newspapers that reported the dropping of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the prevailing conditions of people’s thoughts of the period is one thing, fitting that into today’s politics and knowledge is quite another. In the world of the 1950s-1960s when space exploration was in its infancy, many in their pension years could hardly remember cars on the roads much less aircraft, the landing on the moon on 20 July 1969 by humans must have been met with disbelief on the part of old people and tremendous excitement by the youth. Today a rocket to the moon or Mars is taken for granted, and is only followed by the more ardent followers of space exploration. Reading the original newspapers published on the 21st July 1969 however puts history into perspective. In my opinion the true lessons of history can be learned from original sources, while being very careful to decipher the rhetoric, exaggeration and bias inherent in human behaviour. Various sources often tell a different story but the mentality and presentation in each given period can only be understood if one stands back and refuses to allow their own preconceived ideas of the subject matter.
Ultimately-and we are all guilty of that on occasion, the nostalgic images of postcards and romanticised images of a bygone era fills us with the illusion that perhaps once upon a time life was more beautiful and values were higher. This of course is what the photographer wants his photos to portray. This kind of photographer becomes special because of his/her ability to make the viewer feel the beauty of the image. Films of fantasy and make believe may seem a more recent phenomenon. In fact theatre plays of ancient people, mythology and fantasy worlds were always popular and proves that this is something we all need on occasion to forget the daily grind of work and stress.
For collectors of hundreds of postcards, books published in the 1800s to the present, original magazines and newspapers is not just an attempt to learn of the past, but to try and understand our changing world and values. In addition, the excitement of always searching for old material frozen in perpetuity in a split second by the photographers, gives us a birds eye view of our own small patch in the world of human history. After all, others will one day look at our own photos and possibly ask ”I wonder what kind of a world he/she lived in”.
Any reader wishing to see many more of the wonderful postcards on display in this article can do so by joining ”Frozen Cypriots” on Facebook by clicking here. The group is dedicated in sharing thousands of images frozen in time. No politics are allowed on the site which is full of nostalgia, family and cultural history. As this article shows, there is some scope for images from other countries, and separate albums have been created for this purpose. Join the group and share our rich cultural heritage with a group that is full of remarkable members dedicated to only one thing. The rich heritage of Cyprus, and our world.