Is there anything more happening than documenting what you did this weekend and sharing it with your friends and friends of friends? Anything hipper than documenting your self-documentation on the Internet, showing your people in what tone, saturation, crop, contrast, vignette you see the world? Nope. And to elevate the sharing process, why not make it retro?
What’s most interesting about the very recently thriving trend of faux-vintage (artificially aged) photography is how white culture has commoditized the art of photography. To produce a picture that the general public would call “artsy” a few years ago, one would have had to tow around a nice, chunky camera with 35mm film or a plastic-but-unique Holga on adventures. Fast-forward to present day — now all you need is an iPhone and a pair of hands, and faux-vintage self-documentation is at your fingertips. Ready, set, touch!
Hipstamatic was the winner of Apple’s 2010 App of the year. Pay $1.99 and get yourself over to the nearest coffeehouse where beanies and Moleskine notebooks exist in bulk, and bingo!, you are trendy as shit. And now the free application Instagram, both simpler to navigate and easier to network through, has gained more than 10 million users in 12 months. Looking epidemic, eh?
Sepia tone isn’t enough anymore — in fact, it’s borderline tacky. Technology now allows numerous capabilities of editing the image your cellular device snapped: relaxing in the pool on an animal-shaped floater or holding out the red velvet cupcakes you just baked — you appear more vintage. But it turns out these photos are mock-ups — far, far away from the authentic photographs found in a dusty box of your parents posing, grinning in ’70s air. You can shop at Hipstamatic’s “Hipsta Mart” and change your lens to options with absurdly offbeat names: Roboto Glitter, Helga Viking, Lucifer VI. The exclusive club-sounding titles continue with the extensive options of flashes, films and cases. Hipstamatic is essentially a Holga camera on your smartphone with the aim of adding more intrigue to people’s quickly snapped images. But as it goes with everything in life, when everyone is partaking, the activity — X trend — loses its intrigue and it’s just a matter of time for all participants to realize it’s over and “on to the next!”
But as much as our technology is always sprinting forward on cheetah-turbo power, we are forever looking back. Back is overly admired history, the “ooh-aah” of poodle skirts, the original Woodstock and the nostalgia that Woody Allen pointed out in “Midnight in Paris” … we just can’t get enough.
Our generation has taken it further than just nostalgia, as we have begun to live present moments as past memories. We’re so excited about the potential to double-document that we sometimes lose the moment itself, fingers deciding whether Nashville or Lomo-Fi is the right filter to capture this experience.
Scenario: It’s summer and you’re at a cabin on the lake with a bunch of friends. You’ve got each other, a boat, beer, cards and wakeboards to play with. Ideal: You immerse yourself into the happiness of the present, deepening your human relationships. Year 2011 Reality: You expend your energy deciding how to digitize your friends shotgunning beers on the back of the boat, in order to achieve a maximum hipster product. Your weekend in nature is spent thinking about something that isn’t now. The pictures that are “coolest” look furthest from reality: They’re trippier, color-enhanced and more like postcards that you’d find in the Dawn Treader Book Shop — those of a rustic, hip life that isn’t really your own.
What’s key is that these “vintage,” smartphone-edited photographs would not be a trend on their lonesomes. An audience is necessary. If just snapped, edited and enjoyed for private reminiscing or printed out to put in a frame on the wall, they would not be of value. The faux-vintage photography phenomenon has become worth looking into as representative of contemporary social behavior because of the degree to which we share this visual information. The images seem to only gain importance until they are uploaded onto a social network, whether it’s Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress or Twitter.
Instagram and Hipstamatic have allowed many millions of people to take retro photographs from their pocket-sized cellular devices and potentially think of themselves as skillful, creative creatures. It’s possible that this heightened trending of photography in today’s youth might be us discovering a new kind of beauty. I won’t let this amiable viewpoint disappear completely, but it’s also very possible that our generation’s current obsession with faux-vintage photography will burn out quickly. I may just welcome the incineration.