Remembering The Web’s First Photograph

Image Source ~ Unsplash

It was 1990, the CERN Hardronic Festival; a young 3-D graphic designer, Michele de Gennaro, debuted on stage with her song Collider; a parody, speaking of her lonely romantic relationship with a physicist. The pop comic band, Les Horribles Cernettes, subsequently emerged with Angela Higney, Michele de Gennaro, Colette Marx-Neilsen and Lynn Veronneau. As the name Cernettes suggested, all of them were CERN employees. The band came about, with the help of their manager and lyricist, Silvano de Gennaro; also an IT developer at CERN (the Europen Organisation for Nuclear Research; based in Geneva, Switzerland).

The 1922 Hardronic event marked a milestone. A picture of the Cernettes, aimed as a CD cover, was clicked by Silvano. Later he had formatted the band’s name into the picture with the version one of photoshop. This particular photo initiated archives of the Web’s photographic history. The 18th of July marks the 28th anniversary of the day when the Web’s first uploaded photo was taken.

The Cernettes and Silvano were actively involved in amateur pantomime theatricals in those days. They quickly got acquainted with one of their other CERN colleagues, Tim Berners-Lee. Tim had invented the World Wide Web, in 1989. He happened to be heavily associated with the operatic society; played the Pantomime Dame, a middle-aged woman character frequently portrayed by a man in pantomime theatres. Berners-Lee was a devoted Cernettes fan; just like many others; as they had taken the European physics community by storm in 1992.

A new edition of the Web was fabricated; one that could support photo files. They had previously used small vector image files to exhibit schematics. In an attempt to sell the Web’s image support feature, Berners-Lee requested Silvano for a few scanned photos of the CERN girls to upload. The 18th July’s scanned and saved picture in a .gif format was sent to him for his small experiment.

The web was initially conceived and developed as a worldwide, automated information-sharing network between scientists. Bernes-Lee wanted to propagate a shift in usage towards entertainment, besides research. The motive behind the Cernettes photo had precisely less to do with the fact that they were attractive individuals. The aim was not to objectify them. The upload was an ordinary event, with a minute quota of people viewing the online version. With the then-upcoming larger photo projects, the image quickly passed into oblivion.

Photo historians believe the photo has credibility and substance as an archaeological fragment of the Web. The historic fashion recycled theme of the photo; women in the 90s dressed as the 50s demonstrated escapade. It paved the path to appreciating and procreating past in-present.

When asked about being in the first photograph on the Web, Marx-Nielson, one of the CERN girls had answered, “I suppose it had to be somebody, and it just happened to be us.”

The band later got disbanded with two of the members establishing their solo careers. Their last public appearance together was in Geneva, on the 15th of July 2017. It was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their historic exposure on the Web. They recently worked together on a project, The Lockdown Song, which was released in May 2020; referring to the current pandemic situation.

Go check out the Web’s first-ever uploaded image here.

Writer| Mechanical Engineer| Content Creator at Colourful in Grey| Writing expresses my inner embedded code. It is a portrait of words spun with ink.