Attaining Imperfection

Like most people with a modern phone, I like playing with applications that emulate the look of various types old film when taking pictures. Namely:


at the Mexicali/Calexico borderCameraBag:

And the latest app darling, Instagram:

Transbay terminal
As it happens, I knew one of the founders of Instagram years ago in undergrad, and he was a nice fellow, so I’ve been using the app.


Is it silly to degrade the quality of a digital image so that it evokes more difficult and more imperfect media? No. So long as you keep copies of the unfiltered photo, of course. Film prints and instant or cheap camera images with light leaks, chromatic aberrations, and other such antiquated ‘imperfections’ evoke the nostalgic sensation of flipping through old family photo albums of birthdays and Christmases past, of ancestors, and lithe parents with newborns. The musk of ancient paper, the crackle of the protective plastic… The experience may not be universal, but the romance of an idealized past, however imaginative and far from facts, can be quite appealing.

As with all art, the associations and emotional connotations that are called forth by an image or sentence or song are more important than the literal representation.

Moreover, applying such effects is an act of discovery, just like making prints in the dim red light of dark room. Actual photo and print development is its own difficult art form and technical exercise, but the digitization and instant gratification of photo apps provide similar satisfaction – without the hard work.

Sorry for my word salad; here are some more pictures. I’ve enjoyed working with 35mm film, but it is a time-consuming and expensive hobby. For reference and contrast from the previous images, here are some of my actual photographs taken on cameras that actually make a clicking sound that isn’t prerecorded:

Well, to tell the truth, photo apps are popular because they have sex appeal: we see celebrities and rock stars and models represented in such stylized forms of photography on album covers and in movies, and we want to be among them. But reminiscing about photo albums makes for a nicer story.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s