“Cross-processed” shots from Big Sur.
The rise of Lomography and Hipstamatic-like camera filters is something I’ve been noodling over lately. It is a curious return to the idea of the analogue and imperfect, not dissimilar to fetishizing vinyl and its limitations (or warmth and humanity, depending on your point of view). Both trends were championed by the hipster: vinyl coinciding with the first wave of contemporary hipster-ism, 1999-2003, and Lomography aligning with the hipster resurgence of 2004-present (you really must read this ethnography of hipsters. Proper infotainment).
There are certainly folks that claim that the trend is a vote against the cold and impassive nature of the digital, embracing simulated light leaks and improper “film” processing as markers of authenticity and equating amateurism with honesty. The irony is obvious: the images are ultimately manufactured and manipulated. But this is not a screed against the fake authenticity of these images, but instead an analysis of just why they are so effective. Quite honestly, I kinda like them. And the reason I think they’re quite acceptable is that the heavy filtering that Hipstamatic photos go through shifts the subject of the image from the item portrayed in the photo, to the photo itself. In other words, we’re not looking in the photo, so much as we are looking at the photo. It is the difference between a photo and a painting.
This is not to say that I’m equating the application of cheap filters to a cellphone pic to the skill involved in executing even the poorest of paintings, but there is a physicality and meta quality to any painting that somewhat applies to these pics. The images are not representations of the real anymore, but instead are interpretations of the “real”. And despite my ambivalence about Hipstamatic images, I am more than willing to accept that they can look good. Maybe that’s enough.