Thoughts on Faux-Vintage Photography

Florence, Italy Duomo

Florence, Italy’s Duomo in 2006

Yesterday morning’s “while drinking my coffee” reading material was Nathan Jurgenson’s post The Faux-Vintage Photo: Full Essay (Parts I, II, and III), forwarded along to me by Genghis Kern. I found the author’s points about social interaction and what will become of the faux-vintage in Part III to be the most interesting parts of the article. I agree with umbrella idea of “nostalgia for the present/desire for authenticity” to a certain degree but I’m not convinced that is that’s the only or main driving force behind the trend of faux-vintage photographs. Nathan’s article contains some rather intriguing ideas that got me thinking about the subject, in particular the rational behind using these effects, what vintage actually means and what will become of the plethora of smartphone generated photographs in the future.

The smartphone has opened the door to photography in an even broader reaching way than the digital camera did. With that has come the ability of those using a smartphone, via the applications discussed, to edit their photographs in a way that was either too cumbersome, too time-consuming or outside of the average user’s abilities with a computer a matter of a few years ago. Who wouldn’t want to create a treated photograph in a manner that is straightforward, produces interesting results and is quickly shared with friends and family all in a matter of seconds? All of the above have been possible for a long time, but never in such an immediate way as we see now. It is an interesting opportunity of expression for the novice to the pro to utilize, and I wager it appeals so highly to the everyday user because it provides the ability to produce content in a manner that was once much more difficult.

Hilgier Family Photos

Hilgier Family Photographs from the 1970s

The article also had me postulating what vintage truly is and means and the technology that created those photographs which are deemed true vintage. Sure my grandfather’s photographs from when he was my age show the impact time has had on them in. Some have survived a World War and transit to America. Many are faded, have interesting color palettes, scuffs, tares, water damage and bends in them. Others appear as new as the day they were printed. With that said, one still has the ability to pull out a Polaroid, shoot an image and within a matter of minutes be holding a photograph with an aesthetic quality that these smartphones and subsequent filters try to emulate. I could do the same, though over a longer course of time, with my Holga and a roll of expired film that I have cross-processed not to mention the techniques one could perform on a print to make it look even more aged or treated. So are these photographs that could be taken in 2011 vintage because they emulate the aesthetic quality of pictures from the earlier times or do they fall into the category of faux-vintage? Are they automatically vintage because they are creating by using a dying technique? Therefore, I question what vintage truly is. Just because something looks a certain way, doesn’t make it so. Vintage is and will always be the result of time no matter what is done to emulate it. The photographs above are not vintage because the printed image shows its age, they are vintage because they speak to times 30+ years in the past.

Finally, what I am left thinking about after reading this article is how these photographs that are being shot at an exponential rate will stand the test of time. Given the digital nature of the work, will more of these photographs survive for future generations, or will less? Will these smartphone generated images posted to the social networks of the internet remain in perpetuity, or will they eventually be deleted from storage and our collective conscious? How, if ever, will the eventual vintage faux-vintage photographs be looked back on? Photos from my families past are stored in shoe boxes, photo albums and a few have been integrated into a digital archive. I’m left wondering what the shoebox of photographs will be like in 50 years, if one exists at all.