July 22, 2012
Stuart Murdoch has collected a series of links about Instagram on Delicious that place the Instagram is destroying real photography complaints about faux-vintage mobile photography in perspective.
The best of these links is the essay by Nathan Jurgenson in which he argues that faux-vintage photography, while seemingly banal, helps illustrate larger trends about social media in general. He says that the faux-vintage photo is merely an illustrative example of a larger trend whereby social media increasingly force us to view our present as always a potential documented past:
the Hipstamatic photo places yourself and your present into the context of the past, the authentic, the important and the real.But, of course, unlike urban grit or the rarity of an expensive antique, the vintage-ness of a Hipstamatic or Instagram photo is simulated (the faux in faux-vintage). We all know quite well that these photos are not really aged with time but instead by an app. These are self-aware simulations (perhaps the self-awareness is the hipster in Hipstamatic)....These are all simulations attempting to make people nostalgic for a time past.
The very thing that a faux-vintage photo provides, authenticity, is thus negated by the fact that it is a simulation. However, this fact does preclude these photos conjuring feelings of nostalgia and authenticity because what is being referenced is not “the vintage” but “the idea of the vintage,”
The faux-vintage photo asks the viewer to suspend disbelief about the authenticity of the simulated nostalgia and to see the photo–and who and whatever is in it–as being authentic and important by referencing at least the idea of the past.....The rise of faux-vintage photographs, snapped on smartphones and shared via social media, is centrally an existential move that is deployed because conjuring the past creates a sense of nostalgia and authenticity.
This reference to nostalgia goes deeper than the connection between Instagram and the generalized hipster/bohemian sensibility, which places a premium value on the old, the artisanal, and the idiosyncratic.
Instagram photos emphasize photography as an elegiac or twilight art, one that fakes the emotion of old photographs by cutting out the wait for history entirely. In On Photography Sontag writes:
It is a nostalgic time right now, and photographs actively promote nostalgia. Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art. Most subjects photographed are, just by virtue of being photographed, touched with pathos. An ugly or grotesque subject may be moving because it has been dignified by the attention of the photographer. A beautiful subject can be the object of rueful feelings, because it has aged or decayed or no longer exists.