PAST IS PROLOGUE

Filtering Through the Ages

Humanity’s obsession with their own image

Dr Natalie Woodward
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readNov 2, 2021

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What do these filters say about us, our hopes and fears?

Since records began, and probably long before that, humans have been obsessed with their own image. You could be forgiven for thinking this obsession has started recently: Facebook, Instagram, the thrill of seeing your image pop up momentarily on Snapchat, wondering who in the world saw it and what they thought, before it disappears back into the ether. But this isn’t the case.

We’ve all ogled over old photos: Victorian families, stoic and unsmiling, their one chance to imprint their faces on the world before they turn to dust (we can’t afford to go to the photographer every year, Margaret). These family portraits, like our seemingly modern obsession with the self, reveal a drive to be preserved and exalted in a way which polishes reality, often bearing little resemblance to the model. No doubt, many of these pallid Victorian children were fun-loving, yet in their photographs they look as austere as grandparents. Why? Because self-control was all the rage and a smirk was surely the sign of a miscreant.¹

A jolly bunch²

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Dr Natalie Woodward
Human Parts

Comedic writer of whimsical tales, thought-provoking articles & embarrassing anecdotes. PhD in Literature.