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  • Writer's pictureThe Editor

Old Photos

Once upon a time, in the days before Instagram...

We (like to) think we've got all the answers these days, we clever, modern humans. Like, what did people know 20 years ago, 50 years ago, 100 years ago? We assume that we know more now, and that things are better. Because that's how progress works, right?

To a point. But it's worth looking at the 'stuff' contained within old photos when you're trying to find new ideas. The paraphernalia in those faded snapshots may seem archaic to us now, what with our pocket supercomputers and everything. But it got made nonetheless. Staring into the past to look at these things can often help us piece together ideas today.

If you're trying to find a new angle on a brand, look for some old photos of the brand from years ago - the different logos, design, advertising, or products they made. The Advertising Archives are an amazing resource.

If you're creating a piece of art, look at images of how that medium or genre was executed in years gone by.

If you're creating a contemporary character, go back and take a look at old snaps of people from the place or social group your fictional person is meant to be from.

Old photos - or old film at that - are windows onto the past of many, many things. How we lived, shopped, looked, dressed and spoke.

I defy you not to get sucked into this world of Manhattan, circa 1939:

Here's the (semi) philosophical bit: like layers of rock, built up over thousands of years, all the things in those faded prints are the foundation on what our 'today' is built upon.

But imagine yourself back in the moment that photo was taken - of a logo, let's say - and that you've just been briefed to redesign it. That tired old branding will never do when the future is just around the corner! We're all going to be living on Mars by 1960!

You're like a time traveller at this moment. You know what today looks like. And you know what yesteryear is like too. Where might you have taken this idea, if you'd been given the job* back then?


(*FYI you have been given the job)

Okay, maybe it's not the final execution. But it's a start. And that could lead you somewhere you may never have thought of.

Think of the past like another world. There might be ideas back there - or a stimulus for them - that's been underused or forgotten.

Looking at old photos and film is a good way to bring them to life.

ARCHIVES Some good resources for old film or photos: These are mainly UK-based (but Google around - you're sure to find ones for your region or country):

National Archives: - Images:

National Geographic Image Collection:

The Granger Historical Picture Archive:


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