Berners-Lee in a dress and the Web's first uploaded photo

Twenty years ago, what was the first photo uploaded to the Web? Well, the story involves an all-girl singing group and a cross-dressing Tim Berners-Lee.

This was the very shot, the first on the Web. The Cernettes/YouTube Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I never knew that Tim Berners-Lee was a cross-dresser.

I don't mean to bring it up to expose him. I bring it up merely to celebrate the fact.

For in 8 days' time, the first photo ever uploaded to the Web will be 20 years old. And why would a picture of a wonderful all-girl singing group be the first ever out there on the WWW?

Well, partly, a report suggests, because of Berners-Lee's cross-dressing.

I lean heavily for this information on the wonderful tale told by Motherboard. (I've also emailed Berners-Lee, but haven't heard back.)

Les Horribles Cernettes was an all-girl comedy band of administrative assistants and girlfriends of people who worked at CERN. Evidence of their style follows:

They move gracefully, with a hip-action that would be envied on "Dancing With The Stars." Their lyrics, though, take grace to a new level.

For example, from the song "Collider": "You don't go out with other girls either. You only love your Collider."

The great fortune -- both for this photograph and for history -- was that the man who took it was Silvano de Gennaro. He sounds like a classic impresario, but was, in fact, an IT developer at CERN.

He told Motherboard that he had no idea at the time what the World Wide Web was. However, he happened to sit near Berners-Lee at CERN.

You know what I said about de Gennaro's name? Well, he was, in fact, the Cernettes' manager. A not-horrible one, it seems. So he snapped the picture on July 18, 1992, with his Canon EOS 650, just before a show.

"When history happens, you don't know that you're in it," de Gennaro told Motherboard.

Now comes the cross-dressing part. It seems that de Gennaro met Berners-Lee at an operatic society, where the latter was performing in lady's clothing. (Please, no English jokes here.)

Berners-Lee became enchanted by the Cernettes. Who wouldn't be?

So there was this World-Wide Web thing with which he was tinkering. Twenty years ago, it had reached the stage where it could bear photo files.

What better shot to be the first than one of Les Horribles Cernettes? Berners-Lee apparently sauntered over to de Gennaro, asked him to furnish his latest snap and there it was.

The file was a GIF. The shot was a gift.

Instead of some dullard-pleasing picture of a machine, a nerd or a metal bolt, here was something iconic and joyous.

The symbolism of lightness should not be taken lightly.

As Jean-Francois Goff, the programmer to whom Berners-Lee gave the shot, told Motherboard:

In order to convince management that we should connect CERN to the Internet and not just to proprietary networks, we had to fight to convince them how useful it would be. That's why we only put serious stuff on it. So it was kind of a revolution to say, 'Now let's do something fun with it.'

One small step for life, science and photography. One giant step for LOLcats.

 

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