Studies are lacking, but I wouldn’t be surprised if five percent of the entire world’s Internet bandwidth was dedicated to swapping cat photos. For some reason, cats and Internet go hand in hand, a simple truth that guys like Ben Huh used to get filthy stinking rich. But our obsession with photos of cats in silly poses isn’t anything new.
Sometime in the 1870s, British photographer Harry Pointer made the greatest breakthrough in the history of cat photography. He’d long been shooting carte-de-visite (kind of like a postcard) photos of cats doing cat things — sleeping, drinking milk — but epiphany struck: He started taking shots of cats in a bunch of goofball poses. Even better, he realized he could meme-ify the pictures by adding silly written phrases to his prints. The lolcat was born.
Pointer was prolific, amassing a collection of about 100 individual shots by 1872. (Remember, the roll of film wasn’t invented until 1881, photography and printing at the time was an incredibly laborious enterprise.) According to contemporary publication The Photographic News, Pointer’s “Brighton Cats” series swelled to 200 images. Pointer’s career seems to have peaked with the Brighton Cats, although that may be partially chalked up to the Internet’s cat-centricity putting a sharp focus on a small part of history. But let’s be honest: If I went down in history at the lolcat guy, I’d be totally fine with it.
Images via Photo History Sussex, a great resource for old British photography.
Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @drderekmead.