One version, one history, of the present has the world split into “developed” and “developing”. The lucky ones are in the first group; most people make up the second. The now-common shorthand “third world” was coined in 1952 by French economist Alfred Sauvy to distinguish the poor, hungry, dark majority from the rest of us–those who thrive by leveraging power to control territory and resources.
Humanity’s most important inventions, though invisible, are language and science. But the most compelling artifacts are things, physical evidence of how people live. Cave paintings, pyramids, luxury liners on the sea floor–these all help to fill in the blanks as we try to decipher the long story of us. In gathering clues, nothing beats the tangible. The best essay about arrowheads pales compared to holding a perfect Clovis point. Looking up nine stories from the bottom of an abandoned nuclear missile silo is more chilling than reading about doing it.
Machines and buildings, tools and landscapes, these are the characters of a glyph which narrates our collective autobiography. These remnants of the first world are the evidence we leave as we plow ahead. For the most part, they are wonderous and plain, in the same way that a collection of common utensils can be.
Many of the things in these pictures are now gone; some of them are new and will stand for centuries. But they all occupy the same thin layer; eventually they, and we, will share a single leaf of history, a few-millimeter-thick stratum of dust pressed between shiny basalt and peaty bog.
But for now, naïve optimism allows us pride in our accomplishments. The world we build is perfectly natural, or at least as natural as our natures can conjure. And naturally, everything around us changes; and so do we, almost effortlessly. We shed superstition for reason, love letters for emojis, Hummers for hybrids. What we leave behind is a debris field, a puzzle for sure–but an archeologist’s dream.
These photographs, like the billions made every day, examine moments and places as though they were special, worth remembering. They are like postcards to the future. And scrawled in pencil on the back of any one might be: “I wish you could have been here to see this! - Your friend, M.”.