The S.P.E.E.D. Formula
Over the next four years, with the help of my friends Amanda Uren and Simon Mallindine, I posted around 40,000 Retronautic photographs onto the site in 'capsules' - small collections, each chosen to disrupt the viewers sense of the past. The capsules would routinely go viral, and it began to occur to me that there must be a reason for this.
I decided to try to figure out what this reason was, and to see whether it was possible to codify my approach so that it could be applied to any collection of archive photographs. I wanted to reduce it down as much as possible to a simple formula. The result was S.P.E.E.D. Using the five letters of the formula, I could look at any old photograph and accurately predict whether it would engage with an audience. The higher a photograph's S.P.E.E.D. score, the more likely it would be a viral hit.
During 2013 and 2014, Retronaut was guest curator at Europeana, the European Digital Museum, Library and Archive. Using the S.P.E.E.D. formula, I showcased daily capsules of Europeana content, with interesting results. Europeana and I wrote a report about it, 'Disrupting History', which you can download here.
I was guest curator also at Northumberland Museums and Archives, culminating in a six-month physical exhibition at Woodhorn Museum of around 25 pictures from the Northumberland Archives. The Retronaut Woodhorn project was shortlisted for the Museums and Heritage Awards for Excellence 2015. You can download Woodhorn's report on the project here.
At the beginning of 2014, I was approached by Jim Roberts, the then-Executive Editor at the American-based site, Mashable. The result of this conversation was that Mashable exclusively licensed Retronaut's content, brand and curatorial approach, from 2014 to 2017.
Mashable allowed me to recruit a full-time "under-Retronaut", Alex Q. Arbuckle, and I taught Alex the S.P.E.E.D. formula. Across this three year period, Retronaut's content was the most shared and the most viewed content on the entire Mashable site.
Mashable renewed the licensing deal in September 2017 for a further two years - but then axed Retronaut, together with all their other external partnerships, in October 2017, immediately prior to their sale to US magazine publisher Ziff Davis.
Retronaut's New York
In February 2016, Retronaut's pop-up show Retronaut's New York opened on 5th Avenue, New York, at Premier Exhibitions. Produced by Christoph Scholz at SC Exhibitions, and featuring a 'timescape' of Time Square by Jordan Lloyd, the show featured 30 panoramic photographs of New York at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.
In 2014, National Geographic published Retronaut's first book. Two further books were published by Ilex in 2016, and in 2017, Unbound published 'The Paper Time Machine', a collaboration between Retronaut and colorist Jordan Lloyd of Dynamichrome. An exhibition of 20 of the pictures from The Paper Time Machine' ran at Waterstones, Gower Street, London, from October 2017 to February 2018.
In September 2016, Retronaut became a curating partner for Meural's digital canvas, showcasing a new collection each month under the Retronaut brand.
- Wolfgang Wild