The Manufacture of Nostalgia
As a photographer, I have a love-hate relationship with camera phones*.
On the one hand they are generally not stellar quality and are quite limiting when it comes to technical settings. On the other hand, my phone goes everywhere with me, which is more than can be said for my 4lb Canon DSLR. Likewise, with size comes intimidation – if I aim my phone at people they smile, but when I whip out my 5D Mark II, people tend to hide.
Personally, looking on my phone, all my photos were taken using various apps which simulate the look and feel of old school photographic post-processing methods. In other words, it took a lovely Springy afternoon and made it look like this:
Sure, it’s just another picture taken with a camera phone, but on another level entirely it represents a hugely interesting phenomenon – why are we choosing to use our new technology to recreate the feeling of the past?
It’s almost as if the tinted colours (in all their oversaturated glory) with added vignetting or sprockets somehow inspire the perception of an added feeling of authenticity. Or an extra layer of creativity. Somehow, they seem to make something taken with a crappy camera phone into something interesting.
Granted, a crappy photo is still a crappy photo, but if nothing else, these apps are inspiring people to look at the photos they’re taking in a new way. To use, yes, an ‘added layer of creativity’ to force them to frame what they see in an interesting way, to attempt to turn the content into something visually interesting.
While Hipstamatic is perhaps one of the most popular for the iPhone, countless others are also abound and available on other platforms (personally, I am a fan of ‘Retro Camera’ for the Android). The beauty of many of these is that you can select both the lens and the film to manipulate your image with a seemingly endless combination of your choice.
I’m willing to wager a fairly decent percent of the users of the aforementioned apps wouldn’t have even known what an Instamatic or Holga or Diana was, and yet they are using some of the latest-and-greatest technology to recreate the look of these very old-school analog cameras.
If we are romanticizing the future through media, then what is this saying? That we love our technology, but we want it to do exactly the same thing as our beloved traditional processes… just faster and with less work?
It would appear that technology really is helping us manufacture nostalgia.
*It’s about 80% love, 20% hate.