The Boomer Legacy

Notes

Site Rationale

“The Boomer Legacy” project uses photographs, text and diagrams to satirise impacts by the Baby Boomer generation. Launched in January 2013 and with over 314K page-views to date, the project is maintained without any external funding in its author's spare time.

The point here?… That images are a potent form of history, and history will not be kind.

Boomer Details

The project assumes the “Boomer” generation is defined demographically (ABS, 2004) to be limited to the period following WW2 when the sustained average total fertility rate was greater than 3.0 babies per woman:

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Fig.1   TFRs 1921-2022

More specifically, Australian boomers are those who were born between Q1 1949 and Q3 1964:

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Fig.2   Baby boomers from TFRs

Graph data is derived from: ABS Historical Population (ABS, 2019).

Note that other countries define their boomer generation slightly differently.

The USA, for example, start their boom earlier in 1946 because they use the number of births per 1000 population instead of total fertility rate (CDC, 2012). Alternatively some suggest the demographic definition of boomers is far too generic (eg. Menand, 2019), arguing that boomers are more of a cultural phenomenon and thus birth-date ranges are mostly irrelevant.

Themes & Inspiration

Every image was chosen because it has at least one subtext. In some it's obvious and in others less so. A handful even feature a multiple themes — these can typically be found in the favourites section.

The project is pitched at a hypothetical person in the future who wishes to look back at our time and wonder what things were like. Did we know what we were doing? (Yes) We we aware how bad things were getting? (Yes) Were we worried for the future? (Maybe for our grandkids but otherwise — no)

In 1987, after studying and working full-time during my late teens and early 20s, I took a gap-year and spent it pursuing various hobbies. Afternoons would typically be spent in the Mitchell Library Reading Room, pouring over bound copies of the New York Times newspaper from 1921 to Black Thursday 24 Oct 1929.

I was curious to see if anyone had any idea what was coming (The Crash, The Great Depression etc.). Amazingly, no one did. I spent at least a couple of months reading through a mountain of relentlessly upbeat material which kept reassuring everyone that the good times were here to stay.

Around the same time I also read Frederick Lewis Allen's (1931) Only Yesterday, an informal history of the 1920s written while the Crash was still happening. I was also going through AJP Taylor (1974) The First World War: An Illustrated History and fascinated by his ironic use of mismatched photograph captions (eg. 144. Sir Douglas Haig feels the cold)

Weave it all together, and after a couple of false-starts The Boomer Legacy was born.

Three Facets

A. 545 photographs
B. The accompanying captions & commentary
C. The software engineering to make it all work

The main problem with photography is that it's mostly superficial. People can argue over Aesthetics or Light or Colour or Identity or the Pressing Need To Redress Historical Wrongs, but ultimately a photograph is just a visual 2D representation. Yet in this project I wanted to take things further, where the surface image becomes merely a small component of what is actually going on. As mentioned above, it's the subtext that matters.

The writing which accompanies the images is, for me, the hardest part. You have to get the tone right (and avoid dyslexic missteps!) and yet get the point across without being flippant or bombastic. Am having to constantly tweak sentences or rewrite entire sections to make things less clunky/ more clearer/ apt.

The software engineering adds an extra dimension. There are plenty of good photographers and writers, but it's hard to combine the two and write thousands of lines of (PHP8 & SQL) code to make the project accessible. For example: scene details are stored in a 15-table, 2500-line relational SQL database; Web-pages are server-generated before being sent to your browser by a 3000-line PHP templating engine I wrote; The search feature is nearly instantaneous because it directly accesses the DB.

The only thing I didn't write was the JavaScript image-gallery UI. I did however write an AJAX-based call-back function, which hooks into the JS code so I can log the number of views for each image.

 


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