Friday, November 19

Faux or Real?

{images L to R: my Hipstamatic experiments, tricycle from Eggleston Artistic Trust, farm house from The J. Paul Getty Trust , sprocket photography from Mark Edwards , TTV Lincoln from Flickr , my candle/hands photograph}

I hope you don't mind if I wax poetic or--perhaps--photographic for today.

I have a confession, I love my Hipstamatic. For those of you unfamiliar, Hipstamatic is a camera phone application which lets users digitally simulate a variety vintage lenses and films--replete with many traditional imperfections of analog photography--over and underexposure, light leaks, vignetting, flares, and dust and scratches.

As somebody who cringes (hopefully not too snobbishly) seeing photographs processed with an excess of digital effects, I feel a but hypocritical that I'm so enthused with the completely faux vintage flavor of the Hipstamatic's images. To get a feel for the application, I started taking images of overhead power lines. For a reason I'm still unsure of, seeing those ordinary power lines altered through the Hipstamatic's digital alchemy gave the photos an attractive quality totally absent from a traditional, run-of-the-mill, point-and-shoot cell phone camera's images.

Imagine that--in a world in which we have practically every conceivable image altering ability at our fingertips--we gravitate towards those which can satiate our longing for the imperfections of (in the realm of technological time) ancient analog processes.

I don't know why I was so accepting of the Hipstamatic's product; perhaps it's the fact that the effects were pre-produced, instead of slathered on in post-processing, which seemed more in line with what one would expect with actual analog imperfections. So instead of being willfully doctored after the fact, the application's images were shot and developed "as is" without any further manipulation.

But still, why was I enamored with the images?

I immediately thought of William Eggleston, one of the most celebrated modern photographers. The charm of his images are two fold; first they expertly capture the curiosity that banal everyday objects or scenes can retain, but they are also reinforced (or symbiotically operate) with a richness born from the limitations of the--at then--still relatively nascent field of color photography. I find his work to be a perfect fusion of form and composition paired with the comfort (for lack of a better term) that his saturated colors convey. They simply produce a feeling.

For instance, his image of a tricycle is equal parts perfect low-angle framing, as well as the saturated colors his media affords. Similarly, his image of a farm perfectly marries form and the ochre tinge of the analog photographic process. What I find striking is that the feelings of nostalgia are produced equally from the clearly dated objects in the photographs, but also the fact that they also look like what we imagine an "old photograph" to look like.

Now, is this comfort simply derived from a sense of nostalgia decades removed from when the image was shot? I'm really not sure, but it brings up another point; I'm often dogged by doubts about my own artistic authenticity. Today, if I shot an image which perfectly mimicked the visual analog DNA of, say, an Eggleston print, ­­­­would that vintage feeling be lasting? In essence, can possessing the style, but not necessarily the substance of an image be satisfying? Is that satisfaction sustainable? Or at some point do we--crestfallen--have a revelation that the machine should take more credit than the operator?

This begs another question: is then form, and the exacting eye of the artist (instead facets constructed solely through technological artifacts), inherently as well as indelibly entangled with any true sense of an image evoking a feeling? I'm not completely certain of the answer, but it also got me thinking about schools of contemporary practice that also attempt, to some extent, to marry the proliferation of digital equipment with analog image making techniques.

For instance, Holga cameras are experiencing a resurgence in popularity; they are inexpensive, plastic-lensed film cameras which are earnestly known for their less than sturdy construction. Thus, light leaks and soft-focused images are expected from their use. However, some photographers have taken this fact one step further. By hacking the camera to accept common 35mm film instead of its larger native format, a Holga is capable of exposing 35mm film all the way to its sprocket holes, thus making the technology become more readily evident in the image itself. In this case the look and feel of the image is altered to deliberately display its creative process.

Another practice is TTV--or through-the-viewfinder--photography, which employs the simultaneous use of two cameras. Using vintage twin-lens reflex cameras to frame a shot, one then takes (either digitally or with film) an image of the first camera's viewfinder; the result is a slightly distorted and vignetted image, complete with whatever grime and dust is present on the TLR camera.

Trying out processes meld analog and digital techniques are surprisingly easy to experiment with. For example, I wanted to find a way to create an analog version of blur and vignetting. Using a spare UV filter on the lens of my digital camera, I coated the filter with a ring of petroleum jelly. The effect was a surprisingly effective analog vignetting.

I suppose the moral of this story is if you're feeling a drought of creativity with the artistic processes you are familiar with, try experimenting and augmenting what you do know in order to unlock future ways to work!

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