Paul McKellar

Here, now. Past Lives: @Square founding team, EIR @SVAngel

First Mom in Space

Two years ago I fell in love with this photo.

I can’t even remember where I saw it first but I loved it. So I spent an afternoon looking around for a large copy. I did all the typical things, you do when looking for a photo. Google image search, tin eye. As you might know, the internet is a busy place filled with photos and badly organized.

I did find some pages about it through. The pages said it was from Life magazine 1985. Makes sense, looks exactly like something I would see in Life magazine.

Most people on the internet link to it from FFFOUND. So I assume it blew up there. FFFOUND links to “this isn’t happiness” which is on Tumblr. They link to “calvinscanadiancaveofcool” which still exists, but not the page I wanted. “Calvinscanadiancaveofcool” posted it in 2009/06 based on the url. He has a presence on Tumblr and Blogspot but I wasn’t able to find his email to ask where he got it from.

Dead end on search.

But, it was on Life Magazine.

So I looked at how Life magazine archives and sells their photos. After contacting a couple of people in the industry and learning how it worked, I was directed to Corbis photography as a potentially reseller.

Going there, I actually found a similar photo. So similar it must have been from the same day and photographer. So I was close, why didn’t they have the photo I wanted only a photo that wasn’t as nice.

Stock photo ID: 42-32054467

Even though they didn’t have what I wanted, they did have real information about the photographer! I could now google him.


Googling him, I found his online presence and tried to contact him through his website. Unfortunately, he has passed away. But his son now runs his archive. He believed the photo to be on the west coast (of USA), and would check for me in the summer (6 months from then).

One possibility is going through a good library that indexes magazine articles by subject. There are some dates on the agency photos but LIFE told me their story was 1979 while it didn’t use this photo. A blog lists it as same mag in 1985 which is wrong.

Google lets you sort by time range but then it probably starts in the 90s or so, while people were on USENET earlier & sites like AOL.

Libraries will do searches over the phone, but I don’t know to this extent. My father often placed photos on other international mags too.

So it wasn’t in Life, and the year wasn’t even right. I waited 6 months until he was on the west coast and could look through the negatives for me.

Meanwhile, Libraries

Meanwhile, both me and photographer were contacting librarians to have them look through archives so we could find the photo that way. The theory was that if we could find out for sure it was printed somewhere, we could actually get them to find a high quality version of what they had printed. Librarians were unable to find any copy in any magazine for any year. Complete dead end.

6 Months later

The photographer got back to me. He thinks the negative might ahve been lost in riots in paris. (maybe one of the best lines in an email I’ve ever gotten).

I also have a photo clearance / copyright company looking for that photo and it’s been hectic lately. I did talk to TIME LIFE and they had no exact copies they knew of, they said the referenced dated issue in some blog credits were not the issue, if memory serves I think they said they used a similar one in LIFE about 1978. If you could find that through a library it would probably give an approximate year to look at other sources, most of the top magazines such as Stern (Germany), Paris Match, Sunday London Times magazine, Saturday Evening Post, etc., and sometimes he’s have similar work in other TIME imprints such as Fortune, TIME magazine, etc..

Also one blog credited it to LIFE about 1985 or so and to Sygma / John Bryson but Corbis Sygma also says they can’t find the exact one, we do have similar on the agencies though, did you see them and Getty / TIME LIFE? It’s not impossible Corbis lost or misplaced it when they took over Sygma and near riots broke out in the Paris office.


6 more months later. The photo was posted on reddit. And was hugely popular. It is amazing, because that means for like 6 hours, everyone is looking at the same thing.

I had a brief window where

If you read the thread, you’ll see we found someone who knew Anna fischer. A family friend of her reads reddit.

But we didn’t find the photo. Current theory is that the photo was discarded because it wasn’t technically correct. And at some point someone uploaded the negative to the internet. There isn’t any clear reason why it is labeled as life magazine or whatever year.

So the search continues. I really like the idea this photo is hidden away somewhere in an attic and someone doesn’t know people want to see it.