Inventions Wanted: Universal Photo Database

I often wish I had photographs of certain people or places from my past.  I constantly damn myself for not chronicling my life better.  I’ve even wondered if anyone else might have photographed those people and places.  This gave me an idea for a great invention, the Universal Photo Database (UPDB).

I have lots of old photos of my mother and father, and some of my grandparents, with a few of my aunts and uncles and my cousins.  If there was a UPDB, I could submit my pictures to it, along with the names of the people in the photos.  Then if anyone in the world put in a search, for example “George Delany Harris,” my father, they’d find the photos I uploaded.  It’s not likely people would be searching for him, but he was in the Air Force for twenty-four years and maybe old service buddies wondering what happened to their old pal would.  On the other hand, other people might have photos of my dad that I’d like to see.


[Jim Harris (me), Patty Piquet (spelling?), Becky Harris (my sister) and Jody in front of house in Lake Forest subdivision, Hollywood, Florida, Christmas, 1958.]

When I was growing up, we’d often go outside to take the photos to have good light.  Us kids would stand on the sidewalk in front of the house, often grouped in gangs of friends.  Photos for the UPDB could also be tagged by location, such as Maine Avenue, Homestead Air Force Base.  My sister and I had a bunch of friends on that street but no photos, so maybe Arthur or Alice, or Gary and Gerry, if such a UPDB existed could post their family photos, and if I searched on “Maine Avenue” and “Homestead Air Force Base” and (1961 or 1962) I’d find them.

Or I could search for “Lake Forest” “Hollywood, Florida” 1958-1963 and I could find photos of the old subdivision where I grew up.  Facebook has accidently created a beginning of a UPDB for the Lake Forest (Hollywood, FL) Historical Appreciation Society.  The group has 90 photographs, some of which seem to come from the era when I lived there, so obviously, this idea of mine might have widespread appeal because there are other people feeling nostalgic for that neighborhood too.  Multiply that desire by millions and billions of people and you’ll see the potential.


[Patty Piquet (spelling?), Michael Kevin Ralph and Becky Harris (my sister) in front our house in Lake Forest subdivision in Hollywood Florida, April, 1959.  Patty and Mike, are y’all out there?] 

The tremendous popularity of Facebook is due to nostalgia I think, but so far its technology is based on simple groupings allowing people to reconnect with old acquaintances.  A UPDB with key fields based on names, locations and dates would redefine our interest in the past, and it could be used for other purposes other than wistful remembering.  Think what it would mean to biographers, writers and reporters?

My favorite science fiction writer is Robert A. Heinlein.  What if every fan photo, interview photo, magazine photo, fanzine photo, convention photo ever taken of Heinlein was uploaded into the UPDB along with information, memoirs, interviews, etc. linked to the photos, wouldn’t that create a wonderful library of information for researchers and fans to study?

Also, how often do you find old family photos where you don’t know all the folks in the shot?  Uploaded those photos to the UPDB and someone might identify the mystery faces.  Or how often do you clean out old closets and drawers and throw away ancient photos?  That’s history buried in the landfill – ain’t that a crying shame?  Every photo is a snapshot of reality from a unique time and space location, and who knows what value it might contain.

Most libraries have a special collections department that collects local photos, but they are impossible to use without visiting each collection in person.  Imagine if all the special collection photos where uploaded to the UPDB?  Or old archive photos from newspapers and magazines?  Or all the school photo annuals?

Imagine if Google Maps was cross-referenced to the UPDB where you could zoom in and see photos based on location and time period?  What a fantastic mash-up that would make.  Now that we live with pocket telephones that have built-in cameras, wouldn’t it be easy to create photo diaries of our lives?  Especially ones with GPS tech built in that could date/time/location stamp each photo?

When I was growing up, buying a roll of film for the Kodak Brownie was a rare event.  For most years of my life I doubt there were no more than 2-3 photos taken of myself, and some years none.  There is a small chance I’m in other people’s photos.  During the decades of my parents life, they probably went years without being photographed.  And their parents and grandparents were probably only photographed a handful of times during their whole lifetime.  If we don’t make an effort now, those photographs will soon disappear.

On the other hand, the current digital generation will have hundreds, if not thousands of photographs of themselves, so they will overwhelm the UPDB and techniques will be needed to weed out the photos worth saving.  One of my favorite blogs, Times Goes By written by Ronni Bennett has a top masthead of 10 photos of Ronni taken across her life that makes a wonderful timeline image.  I wish that everyone I meet on the web had a linked page with a similar timeline photo of themselves.  At minimum, each person should have a photo for each year of their life.  Go look at Ronni’s photos – doesn’t that time dimensional aspect add so much to your immediate impression of her?

Everyone is amazed by what the Internet does now – I’m waiting to be blown away by what it will do in five years, or ten years.  Imagine and contemplate what Facebook could be in 2015?  or 2025?  Picture me singing and smiling like Al Jolson, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

JWH – 11/25/9 (My birthday – age 58)  

2 thoughts on “Inventions Wanted: Universal Photo Database”

  1. Well, first, Happy Birthday, Jim, AND Happy Thanksgiving.

    I too sometimes lament that I didn’t take enough photos over the years, but don’t forget that it was much harder before digital cameras, and there wasn’t the family habit yet, I don’t think, when we were young except on special occasions.

    I’m glad you like my blog banner timeline. I think it was one of my rare inspired ideas – heh, heh.

    Enjoy your holiday today and – take pictures.

  2. Happy Birthday (one day late) and Happy Thanksgiving, Jim! I’m honored to share a birthday month with you. One of my really good friends growing up had the same birthdate as you and we often did shared birthday parties.

    So cool that you got the Thin Man collection. I’ve had it for a few years, a Christmas gift from Mary, and we just LOVE it. We’ve been fans of Powell and Loy since the early days of our marriage. She is a stunner and they are both so funny together.

    One of my favorite old movies, which I’ve only seen once and need to get a copy of, is Love Me Tonight. It was pre-code and thus very funny and has Myrna Loy in a small but sexy role. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it.

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