Nostalgic Website Starts Online Phenomenon
JUNE 29, 2011Laura T. Coffey Some ideas take months to germinate and develop before they explode. Here’s one that took just a matter of days.
In late May, inspiration struck an enterprising 21-year-old Canadian who still lives at home with his parents. The notion was a little whimsical and staggeringly simple.
“I was with my parents and my brothers sitting at our kitchen table, looking through an old photo album,” explained Taylor Jones, the young man who experienced the brain wave. “I noticed a picture that was taken at the actual kitchen table where we were looking at the photos. I held it up, and my brother was sitting in the exact same spot. I said, ‘Oh, man, I need to take a picture of this! This is cool!’ ”
Jones held up the old photograph of the kitchen table against the present reality of the kitchen table and snapped a picture. The effect was, in a word, awesome. He did the same thing with four or five other photos from the album, and he sent them to his friends to see whether they liked them.They really, really did. So, in a flash, he bought a domain name — DearPhotograph.com — and posted some straightforward-yet-poignant captions along with his past-juxtaposed-against-the-present images.And then ... KABOOM! Within about three weeks, Jones and his new site had 1.2 million visitors, 15,000 followers on Tumblr, 8,000 followers on Facebook and 2,000 followers on Twitter. (Side note: Those numbers are even higher today.) Jones also received multiple offers from literary agencies wanting to help him publish a book. (Another side note: He just signed with one in Los Angeles.)
“I’ve never said the words ‘insane,’ ‘crazy’ and ‘unreal’ as many times as I have in the past few weeks,” Jones said. “I just don’t know how to explain the feeling to people. It’s — well, it’s insane!
“I mean, it’s crazy that such a simple idea has turned into something that has such an emotional pull on a human being. It’s just nuts.”Emotional pull is exactly what the site serves up on a daily basis. People all over the world are submitting their own photos-within-photos to DearPhotograph.com, and many of them pack such a nostalgic wallop that they’re motivating busy adults everywhere to visit their aging parents and flip through old photo albums with them.
“People are writing me and saying, ‘Oh, you’ve given me a reason to go back and see my parents who I haven’t seen in months,’ ” Jones said.The site even has some prominent folks in the entertainment industry misty-eyed — and Dear Photograph’s traffic jumped even more when they tweeted about it.
“Never had a photo blog get me teary eyed,” tweeted Joe Quesada, a comic book creator and chief creative officer of Marvel Entertainment.“Love this. Simultaneously cool and kind of heartbreaking,” wrote Lee Unkrich, director of the Academy Award-winning movie “Toy Story 3.”
Jones, who has graduated from college, works as a social media specialist for a company in the Toronto area. In addition to pursuing a book, he and a friend want to use the photo-within-a-photo concept as the basis for a movie script or a television series.
“This idea has been done before, putting a picture in front of a picture,” Jones said. “What I did was add the caption so it’s like you’re talking to the photograph. It’s what makes everybody relate to the pictures and have more of an emotional attachment.”
Jones has no idea how far he’ll be able to ride this Dear Photograph wave, but he’s excited to see what might happen. His parents and his two younger brothers, ages 18 and 15, are all astonished by everything that’s transpired in such a short time.
“My parents were kind of iffy when this whole thing started. They’d say, ‘Don’t quit your day job!’ ” Jones said, laughing. “They’ve become really supportive. My mom is so excited ... And who knows? Hopefully eventually this will be able to get me out of the house!”
To see more photos within photos, check out this slideshow or visit DearPhotograph.com.