Fi­nal Anal­y­sis

Roger Hicks con­sid­ers… ‘ Orville and Katharine Wright aboard Wright Model HS’, 1915, un­known pho­tog­ra­pher

Amateur Photographer - - 7days -

Acom­mon re­ac­tion to old pho­to­graphs is: ‘Look at those funny old clothes [aero­planes, cars, hair­styles, what­ever].’ Now come at the pic­ture from the other direc­tion: still, ‘Look how far we’ve come since then,’ but with new def­i­ni­tions of ‘then’ and ‘now’. In 2018, 1915 is 103 years ago. With 1915 as ‘now’, 103 years ago is 1812.

We’ve all seen the fa­mous pic­tures of Wil­bur Wright, prone in the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk in 1903; like this one, part of an ar­chive given by the Wrights to the US Li­brary of Congress. This is only a dozen years later, the year that Orville sold the Wright air­craft com­pany af­ter win­ning a long and vi­cious patent bat­tle with their deadly ri­vals Cur­tiss; with which Wright merged in 1929. Yes, the Model HS is still very prim­i­tive: spruce, wire and fab­ric, with twin pusher pro­pel­lers chain-driven from a sin­gle en­gine. It is how­ever a two-seater (with ac­tual seats) ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing Orville and Katharine: their brother Wil­bur had died of ty­phoid three years be­fore.

Fly­ing across the At­lantic

Now for a First World War story. My wife’s late mother was born in up­state New York in 1911. One day in 1917 or 1918, an aero­plane flew over­head. She ran to her fa­ther in tears: ‘ The Ger­mans might come over and bomb us!’ He gath­ered her up in his arms and com­forted her: ‘Don’t be silly, Mar­ion! They will never be able to fly across the At­lantic!’ In her life­time, she flew across the At­lantic eight times.

So much for fu­tur­ol­ogy. We can make a few vague guesses about pos­si­ble fu­ture sce­nar­ios, but the more dis­tant the time frame, the more vague we must be. We can say some things with ab­so­lute math­e­mat­i­cal cer­tainty: for ex­am­ple that in­fi­nite growth is im­pos­si­ble with fi­nite re­sources. We can­not, how­ever, guess at all re­li­ably at how things will look in even a decade’s time, let alone 50 or 100 years.

Brave new fu­tures

With this in mind, I have been look­ing at many of my books on photography with a new eye. They show what was hap­pen­ing when the pic­tures were taken, or some­times, rem­nants from the more- or less-dis­tant past: even as far back as the Pyra­mids. Now, though, their fu­ture is our past. We know about Sop­with Camels and Avro bombers; about jet lin­ers and space flight. How did Orville and Katharine en­vi­sion the fu­ture when this pic­ture was taken? They’d have known more about avi­a­tion than Frances’s grand­fa­ther; but how much more? Think of all the brave new fu­tures, Socialist, Na­tional Socialist, NeoLib­eral. How much can we guess about any­thing, at least re­motely ac­cu­rately; and how far ahead?

‘ The more dis­tant the time frame, the more vague we must be about pos­si­ble fu­ture sce­nar­ios’

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