AIPhotographyVisual Art

AI: Nostalgia for the Washed-Out & Blurry

With the advent of digital photography, archival paper and fade-resistant ink, when we leaf through our photo albums 50 years from now (if they still exist) the images will most likely look unchanged from the day they were printed. No longer will our grandkids peel back the pages of an old album and see washed-out, color-faded and scratchy snapshots that make them feel happy and sad all at once.  “…sad, like a photograph of your grandfather at the age of 27”, so sang Mike Doughty.

Enter Hipstamatic, RetroCamera and their equivalents. These digital photo apps turn your crispy new photographs into relics from the 1950s or that by-gone era when real-life was sepia-toned or had lens flares that blotted out the faces of Uncle Dave and Aunt Edna at the Boardwalk back when kangaroo boxing was still legal.

Regular Picture
Hipstamatic Picture

What is it about these retro photo apps that are so appealing? Why is ditching precision and clarity in favor of chance and blurriness so much fun and so aesthetically pleasing?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Brian George

Brian George is an illustrator and designer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. In his spare time he makes videos of Spirograph drawings and complains about doing laundry. Website: Twitter: @brianggeorge Insta: @brianggeorge If you're into what I'm doing, feel free to throw down a bit in my tipjar here: @brianggeorge

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  1. I love the surprise of not knowing what you are going to get! It reminds me of the days of film. And I love the over-saturated colors or the washed out colors (depending on settings.)

    I loved the weird old toy cameras and Polaroid’s of the past. Yeah, I’m a Hipstamatic junky. It’s more like an impression or an art print and less like a copy of reality.

  2. @Amy: Yeah, I’m a Hipstamatic junkie as well. And for the same reasons; I love not knowing what I’m going to get, which is why I usually set to random *shake shake shake* before I take a shot.
    I took a picture of my cat sauntering past me and she was brightly backlit from a window. Whatever setting popped up made it look like the whole room was on fire and she was a ghost cat!

  3. Precision and clarity are great, but they also tend to be impersonal. I think people respond to images that look like they have a story, or art that gives insight about the artist or the artist’s process. Also, perfection is boring. :\
    And I’m not a photographer myself, but my sister is, and my favorite pieces of hers were done on a toy camera called a Holga. (She practically had to tape the film into the back to get it to work.) Those pictures have so much more mood and interest, I think because the camera was unpredictable and quirky.

  4. The less precise the image the more imagination you have to bring into it to understand what you are seeing. And nothing feels more personal than your own imagination. The image works more like a trigger than as an object.

    William Kentridge talks about this on this video:

  5. Part of it may be a subconscious reinforcing of the thought, “No matter how awesome the old people say the old days used to be, they don’t look nearly as good as today does.”

  6. For that awesome look, without the cop-out of using an app, I highly recommend Lomo cameras. My freshman year at art school, we were all given one because the department got them for $8 a pop. It’s probably more now as they’re ‘hip’.

    Manual as hell, automatic nothing, but damn those relics of the Soviet Union take amazing photos.

    If you get the Holga (looks like a toy camera because it’s big, clunky, and plastic) it comes with a flash that has a rotating drum over the flash with different color gels. Hipsteriffic!

  7. @selfassemblybestial: Thanks for the link. I love Kentridge! My wife and I went to see his big retrospective at MoMA last year and it was truly fascinating. That clip is a nice outline for what art can do re: perception and how we fill in the blanks and, as you say, “The image works more like a trigger than as an object.”
    That’s also one of the reasons why I tend to leave my own artwork untitled. It leaves more room for a viewer to work with.

  8. I love using the randomised setting of hipstamatic too!

    It’s hard to quantify why I find apps like hipstamatic and camerabag so appealing, but at a guess, I’d say that it’s the imperfections that make the image more appealing to me. Also (as a non-artsy person), I LOVE how these apps give me a false sense of being arty-awesome. 😀

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