There is a special place in the history books reserved for firsts. The first person on the moon, the first person to send a text, the first country that allowed women to vote, the first person to climb Mount Everest. These are all remarkable things, so when you hear about the first photo to ever be put on the internet you expect something momentous. While in reality, what we got could never be called momentous but it can certainly be called special.
The first photo on the web was a simple picture of four women dressed in fancy gear. In the background is their band name ‘Les Horrible Cernettes’ placed there by the first ever edition of photoshop. The photo is of a parody band that had members from CERN (French Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) or the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The picture was taken by one of the member’s boyfriends who was an IT developer at CERN.
Prior to the historic moment that this photo was placed on the internet, the world wide web was largely viewed as a place to share information. The internet had been set up for just that reason in December 1990. Tim Berners Lee was behind the project at CERN and wanted a way to help scientists connect to lab servers more easily. For years this is all the internet was for but when it became apparent that more could be done with the technology things started to change.
Berners Lee was in his lab when he asked his colleague for a picture. Silvio de Gennaro had been working on an album cover for his girlfriend’s band and handed him an image. Tim Berners Lee then uploaded the image to the internet and the rest is history.
The claim has come under some controversy in recent years. While Silvio de Gennaro stands by the story, Berners Lee says they only ever claimed it was the first band photo on the internet. In terms of all photos it was maybe top 5. It is likely to be difficult to work out what exactly was the first photo so in the interest of having a first we will stick with this classy image.
It is a good image to have as the very first anyway. The playful nature, the hint at comedy and the beautiful women all point to the direction that the internet would take. While the internet was created for sharing of information and advancing the world it has been used far more for sharing cat videos and memes. More seriously, the internet has allowed incredible advances in the world and changed the lives of everyone. We are lucky that scientists wanted to share information more easily, without that ambition who knows where we would be today.
While we are not sure if the Cernettes ever made it past office parties, they do have a music video on Youtube called ‘Surfing the Web’ that in some ways accurately predicted the future of the internet. The song tells how the women will not answer if you try to call them, the only way to reach them is through the web.
Whether this was the first photo or not is still up for debate. Either way it was a significant moment in the transition of the internet from an information sharing system to a tool that people could use to share their creativity, have fun, push boundaries and connect with the world. Looking at these images and the limitations that were there months before makes you wonder how far we will go and what we will be able to achieve in the next thirty years.