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The Century Spanning Story of a Forgotten Portrait

In the late 19th or early 20th century, billions of photons ricocheted off the face of this small boy and through the aperture of an early camera. There, the energy contained in the photons initiated a chemical reaction that burnt his image on a piece of photographic film.

Months or even decades later, this negative was laid down on a rough block of wood next to a series of others, images that presumably had some shared significance. Perhaps this was done by his parents, perhaps by himself in his old age, or even his children or grandchildren, but whoever did so photographed the negatives again, seemingly as some crude method of replication. But while the image itself was saved, its meaning was not.  An unknown span of time later the negative was detached from its original context, and the identity of the boy was lost.

I found this negative-of-negatives amongst hundreds of others in an antiques fair in Old Spitalfields market. A few days later, I placed it on my scanner, where a band of LEDs radiated photons across the image, after which they bounced back through a series of mirrors and lenses onto the scanner’s CMOS sensory array. From there, his face streamed through the microcircuitry of a computer to be rebuilt as a pattern of electricity rippling across a film of liquid crystals. The haunting visage stares now from your device for the first time in perhaps a century. An echo of a life long passed.

The image itself, stored both on the vast server farms of Google, Facebook and Tumblr, will endure now for an unknown time into the future even if the “original” should perish.  Now part of the exponential abyss of the deep web it will in time be comprehended and scrutinised by future intelligences both human and otherwise. Through advanced facial recognition algorithms and other exotic means of inquiry yet to be devised it will be woven back into an intricate lattice of information that will ultimately span all of human knowledge.

Will it ever be possible for the identity of this boy to be retrieved? Or is his name to be forever lost; worn away by the corrosive forces of information entropy?

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