What's the last 'normal' photo on your phone? Twitter users share pre-pandemic snaps
Catherine Sequalino Poitier, on a family visit from Toronto, takes a selfie with her daughter Daphne in a near deserted office tower in Montreal on Monday, March 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
TORONTO -- What is the last “normal” photo on your phone? This simple question, posed in a tweet this week, has led thousands to share a window into their lives before the pandemic.
Inspired by a BBC article on the same theme that asked readers to send in their own photos, U.K. journalist Robyn Vinter tweeted a call for pre-lockdown photos on May 16.
“I would like to see the last normal photo on your phone,” the tweet read.
The response has been enormous.
A scroll through the thousands of photos posted in reply to the tweet show the range of “normal” that we have largely left behind as the world battles COVID-19.
Family members meeting to celebrate birthdays, friends clinking glasses in bars, concert-goers jostling against each other. Crowds without a mask in sight and no thought of physical distancing.
One Twitter user posted a photo of six people clustered together outside, smiling at the camera, and accompanied it with the comment, “LOOK HOW CLOSE THEY ARE TO EACH OTHER”.
Another user posted a photo of an exhibit at the British Museum, full of people milling around.
“Taking my daughter to the British Museum. Crowds. Public transport. A cafe. Sharing tables. More public transport. A world away,” they wrote.
Vinter told CTVNews.ca over Twitter that she had “expected just a handful of replies from a few of my followers, like some nice pictures of them at a pub or out with their families.”
But when she checked back a couple hours later, she saw that some well-known Twitter users had responded, and that the tweet had hundreds of interactions.
Jon Ronson, a British journalist and documentary filmmaker, had responded, as did Monica Lewinsky, an anti-bullying activist most known for being involved in a U.S. presidential scandal in the mid-1990s.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Vinter’s tweet has more than 8,000 replies, and has been liked more than 11,000 times.
Slowing down to read the descriptions provides an illuminating picture of how quickly things changed due to the pandemic.
Several replies featured photos Twitter users had taken the day before they lost their job due to COVID-19.
Vinter, who writes for the Yorkshire Post and founded the Overtake news site, said the one that struck her as “poignant” was a photo that seemed, at first glance, to just be an “ordinary cat photo.
“Someone had a picture of their friend's cat, which I thought was nice,” she said. “And then they mentioned they took the picture because the cat wasn't well and they were unlikely to see him again.”
Many posted photos taken on public transit — trains, subways, buses and streetcars, all modes of transportation that now feel fraught.
“I think, in the U.K. at least, we went into lockdown so suddenly that we didn't have time to take any pictures that were particularly special,” Vinter said. She pointed out that while photos of weddings or birthdays already hold significance, many others were more mundane.
Photos of dogs, bread, coffee cups, the cover of a new book — ordinary things imbued with retroactive meaning based purely on when they were taken.
“We ended up in a situation where these everyday snapshots of life became so much more significant and meaningful,” Vinter said. Her own “last normal photo” had been a picture of a mirror in a charity shop that she was considering purchasing. “I’m assuming it’s still there,” her tweet read.
A few who replied even discovered just how close they had once been to another person in the tweet thread. After a Michigan senator posted a picture of a crowded rally for Elizabeth Warren, who was still running her presidential campaign in early March, another person posted a photo of the same rally — from the other side of the stage.
Although some people responding to Vinter’s tweet may have chosen photos that weren’t necessarily the “last” ones they took before lockdown (in the interest of sharing a more eye-catching photo), the common thread among the replies on social media is one of wistfulness.
We’re all searching for a way to remain connected — even when we can’t gather down at the bar for a drink.