Pictures or it Didn’t Happen: Documentation in 2020

Image Source: Mymodernmet

When Nicéphore Niépce took the first surviving photograph, a view from his window, he became part of an ever-evolving culture of documentation through photographs. We started with bulky cameras and a niche profession, but through the years the cameras got smaller and the number of people using them increased.

Christmas is a big deal in my family, and each year we make it a point to take a family picture. Each year my sister and I, have a half-hour photo session and these photographs are stored in our phones till next year when we look back at them. This year we noticed something more. When my sister was getting clicked by the Christmas tree, my grandfather quickly whipped his phone out of his pocket to document this moment.


Credits: Sam Hood/State Library of New South Wales

Today, if you have a phone, you can document your life right as it happens. We no longer have to worry about the camera film running out, rather, our 256GB phone space doesn’t fill up fast with pictures of food, clouds and selfies. Our gatherings are marked and saved forever in tiny, electronic boxes.

Even when the whole world was brought to a standstill by a pandemic, the one thing that kept us going was documentation. We started by looking at photographs from the Spanish Flu and though they were taken decades ago, the sentiment remained the same. Documentation has always been a major part of our lives and though we were stuck at home, this time was no different.


Photo by Mollie Sivaram on Unsplash

While there once was a time our galleries were filled with the world outside, people united over images of Dalgona coffee, recreations of fine dining at home and a whole bunch of Tik-Tok challenges that they posted online. The world may have looked like it was going to go up in flames, but content creators online found a way to make the best content without little to no professional help. Armed with their phones, they created content on everything - Quarantine routines, what I’ll wear after lockdown, quarantine recipes and much more.

When actor and rapper Diljit Dosanjh started sharing entertaining videos showing off his culinary skills the whole family gathered to watch the video and have a good laugh with him. Documentation is never limited to the celebrities of course! I’ll have to admit, my phone is full of ‘vlogs’ from the time I tried to make a poached egg, to the time I had a relatively calm day at work. Were these things worth documenting? Probably not. But the idea behind documentation in 2020 has been, for many, a time capsule that they can revisit when they want to look back at “the crazy year that 2020 was.”

When offices and schools went online, people made sure to make it tolerable. It wasn’t just us that kept sharing how we’re coping with the lockdown, brands too made content that perfectly captured the feelings of lockdown while incorporating the promotion of their brand, as Apple did! Through documentation, we all got through the WFH phase that continues. I guess we realized that some meetings could truly be calls after all!