Photo: Marie Öquist, CC-BY.

In April 2017 Stockholm was subject to a terrorist attack. A truck drove through a crowded street killing several people and leaving many more injured. The event had a major impact on the city shutting down public transport and causing concern throughout the capital. In times of traumatic events we know that people take to social media and participate in online conversations. In these conversations it seems photography plays an important role.

In April 2017 Stockholm County Museum and the Nordic Museum/Nordiska museet initiated two collecting initiatives, aimed at vernacular photography connected to the terrorist attack. Both museums used existing websites for collecting, by Stockholm County Museum and by Nordic museum. At Minnen the result was approximately 400 images. uploaded by 100 people.

A year after the attack the Collecting Social Photo team wanted to get in touch with those who chose to donate photos to the museums. Our initial thought was that there is a risk that people either switch to new mobile phones, leaving the photos behind, or have deleted them due to lack of storage space in their mobile phone. Three short questions were therefore delivered through a survey, to 60 of the people who in 2017 contributed to Minnen with photos.  The question in focus was: Do you still have the photos in your mobile phone?

From 37 responses we can see that a vast majority still have kept the photos, though not all stored in the mobile phones they were taken with. More than 60 % have kept the photos in their mobile phones, fig 1.

Fig. 1. Number of people who have the photos from the terrorist attack still in their mobile phones one year later.

Three have changed mobile phones, and not stored the photos. One third have stored the photos externally on hard drives or cloud services, fig. 2.

Fig. 2. A majority of the people still hold on to the photos, one year later.

From the comments in the survey it is interesting to see the strong emotional connection the informants have to their photos. The photos serve as important memories from a sudden traumatic event. Some have even stated they would feel guilty to delete the photos, as the photos also in a sense serve to honor the victims. These are some of the comments:

I don’t think it’s ok just to delete these pictures, then it feels like you would completely forget what happened and I think it would be good to remember in order to prevent things like this to ever happen again.

I don’t feel it’s right to delete these photos for some reason, I have deleted others but these photos will remain.

I think it is important to document events. I have kept them for people to remember that we have to take care of each other.

For the Collecting Social Photo project initial conclusions are that vernacular photography today does seem to have an important role as memory, and that photographs that carry stronger meaning of memory and events like the terrorist attack are more likely to be kept probably in contrast to less important photographs.

Another conclusion is that there is less engagement around the topic a year later, and most likely even less a couple of years from now. A sponsored post on Facebook and Instagram, a couple of days after the attack in 2017, generated great response, reaching almost 280 000 people. Another sponsored post on April 7 2018 generated response but to a far lesser extent. Approximately 100 people uploaded photos in 2017, and in 2018 only 25 contributed.*

However, having once established contact with the people who initially engaged in the collecting initiative in 2017 might have generated a positive effect when reaching out to the informants a year later. The response frequency of the 2018 survey was almost 60 %. This could indicate that establishing a conversation with audiences early on lays a foundation for a long term relation, with a smaller group of people, and as a consequence lowers barriers for further engagement with the museum or archive.

Despite far less people than expected deleted their photos or lost them due to technical issues, as switching to a new phone might be a result of, there is still an issue of engaging new audiences a year after a sudden event. And while people might hang on to their photos, technical issues might later on cause images being lost.

These initial conclusions and thoughts will be further analysed as the project will continue to follow up on the case studies. The final results will be presented in an upcoming anthology due to be released early 2020.

* The collecting initiative is still open and might generate more response.