Faux-vintage photos, authenticity and atemporality

Paul Raven @ 17-05-2011

More drive-by linkage for ya, bub – and this one’s a two-fer. First up, Nathan Jurgenson delivers a three-part essay on the deeper significance of the fad for faux-vintage photo processing apps, e.g. the Hipstamatic:

I submit that we have chosen to create and view faux-vintage photos because they seem more authentic and real. One does not need to be consciously aware of this when choosing the filter, hitting the “like” button on Facebook or reblogging on Tumblr. We have associated authenticity with the style of a vintage photo because, previously, vintage photos wereactually vintage. They stood the test of time, they described a world past, and, as such, they earned a sense of importance.


The faux-vintage photos populating our social media streams share a similar quality with the inner-city Brooklyn neighborhood rich with authentic grit: they conjure authenticity and real-ness in the age of simulation and the vast proliferation of digital images. And, in this way, the Hipstamatic photo places yourself and your present into the context of the past, the authentic, the important and the real.

Then, next day, Adam Rothstein (yup, him again – what can I say, he’s doing a lot of interesting stuff in my info-river of late) gets all definitive on the term atemporality, and skewers Jurgenson’s theorising in the process:

Atemporality is the point at which this temporality begins to break down, though still in a temporal way. We still have a sense of time, but the wide span we call “history” begins to get weird loops, whorls, and whirlpools in it. The usual cycle of fads booming and busting grow eccentric, and spin oddly off-center. The idea of what is “current” begins to break down. We have trouble remembering if something used to be common a long time ago, or if that was today but maybe in Japan, or if maybe someone simply suggested that it would happen soon in the future. The river of time spreads out into a brackish salt marsh delta, and we know time is still flowing, but we don’t remember where it was we were trying to go. Were we trying to go? What does that even mean?


Anyone offering authenticity has something to sell you, and likely, a something you do not need. They try to convince you that the way you are doing it is not as “real” as something else. Funny–because reality was just fine before they came along. Before they tried to monetize a particular world-view, to increase the value of a certain temporal commodity by claiming to be the exclusive arbiter of what is authentic and what is forged and fake. And we wouldn’t want to fool ourselves either; this is a capitalistic world, and everything ends up bought and sold. Any particular atemporal trend will end up named, stamped into a commodity, and sold, until stretched into a thin veneer of shiny, zombified goo. But that’s okay, because we already have a friend that we met in a comment thread, that can get us that real shit. The Real Shit, because it is the stuff we want and nothing else, and because we’re getting it from the source that we know and trust. That is the network, and that is atemporality. All real shit. No authenticity.

Go read both in full. Go on.

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One Response to “Faux-vintage photos, authenticity and atemporality”

  1. Chris Beckett says:

    My oldest daughter (24) is really into hipstamatic. I think she used it for about 30% of her latest batch of photos. This seemed weird to me, because it makes the photos look the photos my wife and I took when we were her age – dodgy colours, light leaking in etc – and at the time we just looked at them and thought ‘these photos are a bit shit, we really ought to get a decent camera’. We really didn’t think that this was a a great effect. But I think maybe this proves Jurgensen’s point, because to my daughter, these photos would have been things she saw in an album, which had magically endured from a strange legendary time before she even existed. Maybe that’s why she likes her own photos looking like that. I’ll ask her.