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Wayne Hinshaw: Is our love of the smartphone based in nostalgia?

A few weeks ago, I wrote columns about the use of smartphones and the future of straight photography. With those subjects on my mind, I have discovered other articles about the subject that I would like to share with you. I don’t want to bore you with subjects that don’t interest you, but I think these writers have an interesting outlook on where smartphones actually got their start.

“Regardless of what it signifies, any photographic image also connotes memory and nostalgia, nostalgia for modernity and twentieth century, the era of the pre-digital, pre-post-modern,” Lev Manovich said.

From the previous quote, Joshua Sarinana, a writer with a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed a fascinating idea about why we are so attracted to smartphones.

With the idea that we will always need to connect to our past, our modern culture has a connection through our unconscious minds with past generations and ideas. Sarinana says that the current generation, in today’s pop-culture, is trying to “mimic the 1970s.”

The concept of mobile photography was founded in 1972 with the invention of the Polaroid SX-70 camera. With the Polaroid SX-70, you could shoot photos quickly and they would automatically eject and develop without any chemical residue. Edwin Land went on stage with the new folding camera in his pocket. He shot five pictures in 10 seconds and they popped out of the camera completed. By 1974, Polaroid sold 700,000 cameras at $180 each. The astronauts used a SX-70 camera in Skylab 3 and 4 to make instant photos.

Thus, quick and instant, mobile photos were possible.

This draw to quick, instant photos remained in modern people’s minds. They liked the idea so much when the smartphone and social media of today popped into the culture, it was quickly absorbed into our lives.

Photographer Stephen Shore is quoted in Shutterbug magazine as saying immediacy was always on his mind. So was sharing. People would give away SX-70 pictures. “l’ll take your picture” was followed by, “Here, you can have it.”

From the 1970s until now, the missing step, according to Shore, was to communicate what he observed to others in his photos in a quick, instant move that the iPhone 5 and other smartphones now present.

Shore, director of the photography department at Bard College, says, “I’m using all this source material to decide what to photograph and also how to structure the picture, not to make it composed like a photograph, but to make it look like ‘seeing.’ ”

The photos he is taking with his iPhone “aren’t to be like stories. They’re one liners.”

Sardinian feels that all this is part of our nostalgia, of wanting to return psychologically to the past. That is why we want to use our smartphones and apply all the apps to the photos trying to make the photos look like photos from the past.

In the 1970s, we were moving from analogue to digital, which brought about the social media. In the ’70s, our visual culture was different than it had been in previous generations. Our desire for color photos and “snapshot aesthetics” was evolving as the Polaroid SX-70 camera became popular.

You didn’t need any technical knowledge to successfully use the SX-70, just like no knowledge is needed to use the modern smartphones. Everyone can use the smartphone.

With the iPhone you can get an app for a 1977 filter added to your photo. You can make your photo look like an old toy camera effect with all its defects. You can put a Polaroid white border on your images with an app. You can add vintage filters of color and textures over your images.

We are in a digital age where you can make any photo look like an old analogue photo from the past. It is our connection to the past, our nostalgia for the old. The photos can be shared with friends instantly on social media like giving them Polaroid photos of old.

Sarinana says, “Every photo implies the past, but it is necessary to use the past as a way to guide us toward the future and not as a place to find refuge from the unknown.”



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