Snap! How photographs from the past became an internet sensation

Taylor Jones was sifting through a box of old family photos when he found a picture of his younger brother sitting in a chair at the kitchen table. The 21-year-old Canadian looked up and noticed that the same chair was in front of him. Lifting the picture to fit with the background behind it, he stumbled across an idea which has landed him a book deal and turned his photography blog into a global internet phenomenon.

"The past month has been crazy. I can barely keep up," he told The Independent by phone from Ontario. "I had an idea and it just went mad." That idea was as simple as it was infectious: take a picture of an old photo held up in front of the place it was originally taken and post it online. The result is a seemingly magical doorway to the past, filled with nostalgia, that combines the old method of printing photographs with the viral might of social networking.

In a month, Mr Jones's website DearPhotograph.com has gone from a start-up blog to the latest cyber "meme" with more than 3.5 million hits and an army of dedicated fans. "People can relate so readily to it," he said. "After the five photos I originally posted I've been crowd-sourcing other people's photos. I get about 30 photos a day and so far the site has had around 3.5m hits."

Submissions have come in from across North America, Britain, Brazil and Australia. Every day, Mr Jones wakes up to a new batch of photos from people dusting off their family albums and giving them a new lease of life. Part of the website's appeal is the way each photo contains a caption underneath it providing a brief – and often tantalisingly short – description of what the photograph means to the person who took it.

Mr Jones said the shot with the most hits so far was posted a week ago and shows an old man looking at a bench. The old photo shows the same bench and the same man with his laughing wife years earlier. The caption reads: "Dear photograph, thank you for everything we had."

"That one has been really popular," he says, "It's pretty decent, really intense. It's really cool to see people's stories behind the photos."

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