Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Enough with the Hipstamatic Thing

(I almost didn’t post this for fear that it would make me seem like a surly, bitter luddite… but why fight it?)

The hipstamatic thing is getting old. I may get some shit for saying this, as I have many friends who use this app constantly, but it seems as though no one takes normal pictures anymore. I see these images popping up on Facebook constantly. Everyone else seems to love it. I guess I am the only one who views the Hipstamatic app as merely a way of dressing up pictures that are only marginally interesting by whipping on a dash of readymade nostalgia. Somehow making a boring digital photo look like a boring Polaroid makes it worthy of being shared with the entire world.

Now I no longer have to read about what people had for breakfast, but I also have to see a picture of it, but made less appetizing with a sickly orange tint (or greenish-bluish, depending on the filter).

To be sure, I dig the effect. I grew up with Polaroid. The first picture I ever took was a Polaroid, which the Hipstamatic is ostensibly attempting to replicate. (The picture ended up being the right half of my mother’s face. I can’t remember if this was deliberate, but in any case, it did not come out the way I wanted it to) Also, though I would never use it, I praise the ingenuity of the creator of the app. However, when I take digital photographs (and though I am the proud owner of a 35mm SLR camera, I am ashamed to say that I never use it anymore), I tend to go for the most high quality image that I can get and save the digital trickery for Photoshop, in which one has a powerful tool for refining images and also, through exploration and play, for creating a whole range of unexpected effects. While I did not create Photoshop, I also do not feel restricted by the aesthetic sensibilities of the people who did. I do not think that Hipstamatic users can say the same.

I know that I am probably breathing too much into this. After all, these are just snapshots, right? Isn’t the Hipstamatic itself basically emulating a format which sacrificed image control to capture moments instantly, albeit imperfectly? Yes, and I have no problem looking at simple snapshots (or not looking at them but acknowledging that they exist). However, I believe that there is some artistic pretense with the Hipstamatic which has the power to turn the nice, innocuous snapshot into bad art. Worse, I see more and more “artistic” photos being posted which would not be worth a second glance if it were not for the readymade effect. Art is not using some labor-saving device for lazy people who want to create something that appears artistic.

Perhaps I am being a bit cantankerous. Again, I do not have a huge problem with the app itself. While I take issue with the fact that it has made one type of visual cliché so prominent over so many other possibilities, there may be very good reasons why this particular style has struck such a chord. It could be a warm feeling obtained when looking over childhood photos. It could be the recognition that the next generation’s experience with that will be so vastly different that we long for some connection (if artificial) to the old fashioned ways. It could be a connection to a grittier era, like people who idealize the dirty, dangerous New York of the 1970’s. Or it just could be that “it looks kinda cool.” Whatever the reason, however, the huge proliferation of its indiscriminate use has made the effect so common that I believe that it largely loses its power. Furthermore, I see the app as becoming more important than the subject matter. It is a way of taking a cool looking picture rather than a cool looking picture of something. It all too often seems to be a way of polishing a turd, replacing creativity and discernment with an app.

So I offer this challenge to all Hipstamatic users: The next time you take a picture, ask yourself if the basic image is interesting enough in the first place. Ask if digital meddling will enhance the image or distract. Finally, ask yourself how the Hipstamatic effect is the best choice for the image at hand. It may not be. Find what is.