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And he used to be such a nice, quiet boy

Meet the Retronaut

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It isn’t often I find a website that truly fascinates me, but is a rare exception.  The creation of Chris Wild from Oxford, UK, this site offers a unique insight into the past, both modern and ancient by way of altered photography.

As a museum curator Chris had unlimited access to archives of very old photographs, and once he discovered photo-shop there was no stopping him.  His creativity spawned amazing time-bending images some of which you can see here.

A whole network of creative minds sprung up around Chris via the internet and sent him their images.  People recreated advertisement for modern technology as it would have been forty years ago.  Sat Navs, Youtube, and Skype all received a 1950s makeover.  And all with just a little imagination.

In short, he has come up with the closest thing a civilian can get to time travel.

He has fascinated us with the past, reunited us with long-lost souls and delivered dire warnings about the future of the planet.

Throughout all this Chris has met some amazingly  people, for example a chap who recreates modern films as they would have been in the 1920s.  He discovered a film of the Sepentine dance  that was hand coloured frame-by-frame in the late 19th century.

Others have photographed modern buildings using methods of centuries past.  One or two people make photo-projections of how London could look in the after effects of global warming.  And how our land can be used to survive such extremes of climate.

So taking a rare opportunity to talk to a time traveler I put a few questions to him:

1. How did all this get started?

Ever since I was a child I have wanted to go back in time.  As an adult, I struggled for a long time to find my direction in life.  One day I admitted to myself that what I really wanted to do more than anything was to be a time traveller, but I knew that this was impossible.  Then I heard a voice in my mind say “Use the impossibility of time travel as the starting point, not the end.  So its impossible.  How close can you get?”

2. Has Photoshop technology been adequate for your needs?

How to be a Retronaut features a lot of archival content which is often faded or damaged.  I use Photoshop to restore photographs whenever possible.  I want to remove the barriers to the way we look at time, and showing bright colours helps that process.  The results are my interpretations rather than definitive restorations, and that’s the great thing about the digital world, you can have as many interpretations as you like.

3. Who are all these Retronauts?

A tribe of Retronauts has grown up around How to be a Retronaut, which is fantastic.  Some are archivists or historians, some are casual surfers.  They are all interested, as am I, in looking at the past not as something over, gone, or dead, but rather as another version of “now”.  Nobody ever lived in “the past”, everyone has always lived in versions of “now”.  We can open up those versions, those interpretations, as an index of creative possibility.

4. If you could take a holiday in any place, in any time where would you pick?

Without question I would go back to Allbrook, near Eastleigh, Hampshire, where my parents lived when they were first married, and where I was born.  I would visit at the point of my birth, so I could understand why my parents related to each other in the way that they did.

5. How have your images been used in therapy?

I recieved an email from a care worker who wrote:

“I work in a residential home for people with Dementia and – here’s the Retronautic bit – the home asks families to bring in photographs so that the carers can walk in to a room and instantly have a sense of who the person is. So I no longer see a frail old person, I see a child, or a beautiful young bride – one chap has a photo of himself shaking hands with Clive Sinclair when he became a member of Mensa. The upshot is that people who have their past in pictures on the walls around them are more likely to receive better care.”

I recommend you visit Chris’s site at and lose hours just browsing a world your ancestors knew.

Chris Wild can be contacted at:


Written by Nick Gilmartin

November 9, 2010 at 1:37 pm

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