‘Last normal photo’ before lockdown proves social media hit

Robyn Vinter knew something was happening when she saw a reply from Monica Lewinsky. Vinter, a Leeds-based journalist, had sent a Saturday morning tweet which contained a simple request: “I would like to see the last normal pic on your phone.”

Within hours she had thousands of replies, including one from the woman best known for her part in a political scandal involving the former US president Bill Clinton.

Robyn Vinter puts the popularity of #lastnormalphoto down to a combination of narcissism and nostalgia. Photograph: PUBLIC DOMAIN

“I spotted Jon Ronson had replied, and a couple more fairly high-profile people and then I noticed Monica Lewinsky had,” said Vinter. “I thought: that’s weird, how did she find my little tweet out of nowhere? Then I saw there were thousands of replies.”

jon ronson


May 16, 2020

Vinter’s simple tweet soon took on a life of its own, with almost 8,000 replies, revealing people’s desire for a glimpse of life before lockdown. The hashtag #lastnormalphoto began trending this weekend, with people from across the globe posting the last picture they took before the lockdown measures brought normal life to an end in March.

Pictures range from mundane snapshots of life, such as parents and children embarking on their final school run before classrooms were closed, to more joyous occasions including birthday parties with people hugging and chatting in groups – with barely 2cm between them let alone 2 metres – before lockdown made physical distancing mandatory.

Creative Wordism

On a bus in February pic.twitter.com/ZmDDT5sOgb

May 17, 2020

There’s a shot from the Champions League tie between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid on 11 March, while several people sent images from meet-ups with elderly relatives. Lewinsky sent a picture of a bouquet of flowers she had received.

Monica Lewinsky

was sent the most beautiful flowers… 🥰 https://t.co/FNex4407TN pic.twitter.com/tQCo3WsVSn

May 16, 2020

“There are a lot of things that people would have chosen to do if they knew it was coming. It’s a frozen moment in time, I suppose,” said Vinter.

Originally inspired by a BBC article, which asked for readers to send photographs, the hashtag is the latest photo callout to become popular on social media. Others include Covid-19 specific themes (#beforesocialdistancing, #sociallydistanced, #nosocialdistancinghere), the nostalgic (#happiertimes, #untilnexttime, #misstheolddays) and the exasperated (#whenwillitend, #2020cancelled).

Charlotte Maher

A lovely Sunday spent with friends at a bar in Exmouth market. Urgh. pic.twitter.com/fMpMY2HGY3

May 16, 2020

Vinter, who works for the Yorkshire Post and founded the Overtake news site, says there is a question mark over whether the pictures are actually the last ones taken before lockdown, or the most social-media-friendly option.

“You could tell some of them were curated,” she said. “It wasn’t actually their last normal picture. It was one they had chosen because it was cool or they thought it made them look good. So there’s an element of narcissism involved.”

James Varley

When nobody had heard the phrase ‘social distancing’. pic.twitter.com/IEbRsz2nxd

May 16, 2020

Vinter puts the popularity of the hashtag down to a combination of that narcissism and nostalgia, as people scroll through their phones and pick out a snapshot of their former life. “It’s nice for people to reflect on what they were doing especially because life changed so quickly,” she says. “People had a feeling that something was going to happen, but no one knew the necessary extreme it would go to.”

Vinter’s own entry to the hashtag was of her in a charity shop as she sized up a mirror that she was considering buying. “There was a weird 1970s mirror that I liked, so I’d just taken a picture of it. I wanted to have a think about it and imagine where it might go in my house and then go back for it,” she said.

Robyn Vinter

This is me in a charity shop, taking a picture of a mirror I thought I might go back for. I’m assuming it’s still there pic.twitter.com/XiaLGshrtX

May 16, 2020

“Obviously the charity shop is shut, but I’m hoping it’s still there and no one has got to it in the meantime.”

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