Manufacturing nostalgia

Given that this is the first day I’ve posted to this blog, I’m probably being quite optimistic asking questions of my readership. But that’s what I’m going to do. (If you happen to be my readership, please expand by telling all your photofriends how scintillating it is.)

I was recently on a panel at Critical Animals in Newcastle discussing the meaning of photographic representation in this digital age. My focus was on the toy camera aesthetic, which is what I preferentially work in. Very briefly, I postulated that the toy camera image may be many things, but one of them is an apparently quite marketable emphasis on nostalgia. One way of looking at the meaning of photography is focusing on the way it “links” us to a subject, place or person that is always in the past. From the moment the film is exposed, we’re locked out. The light leaks and vignettes of toy cameras lock us out further, putting a visible barrier between us and the event. I think the texturing that many people engage in does the same thing.

I don’t texture.

I do let the light get at my rolls of film though. And use dodgy processing and leave the dust and fingerprints on when I scan.

So OK, I guess I do texture.

Today, I took my kids to Kinka Beach, an amazing place where the tide goes out for kilometer or two. This was the first place I lived as an independent adult. I wasn’t there for long, but it meant a lot. I love the place, but there’s something poignant about visiting it.  

I like the photo above, which is called Kinka: low tide. What I like about it is the texture, the contrast, the starkness and openness. It doesn’t have the emotional pull that someone else’s photo of Kinka would have (and has had) on me. I think it is because I’m caught up in the crafting of the photography, and this gets in the way of my receiving the “never again” message at the heart of photography (well, one way of looking at it.)

So, as an exercise, I thought I’d texture.

(If you’re interested, I’ll mention the technique at the end)

So what do you think? Does the result below evoke more of a feeling of nostalgia or passed time? I’m really interested in hearing your comments.

The recipe for the above:

1. draw a rectangular marquee around the horizon line upwards.
2. select the gradient tool. Create a gradient that goes from golden yellow in the centre to golden light brown at the edges.
3. create a new layer and apply the gradient, centred on the lightest part of the sky
4. select inverse, and use the fill tool to cover everything with a redder brown
5. select “multiply” as the blend mode, and pull the opacity right down.
6. paste the texture image (unknown territory on my Flickr stream, you’re welcome to it) in a new layer
7. merge all layers
8. adjust levels so it likes like daytime again.
9. In filters, go to lens correction and add chromatic aberration and a bit more vignette.

About postdigitalblog

Lecturer in Multimedia at CQUni Wrangler of young kids @ home in Yeppoon Otherwise, photographer and digital media type.
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5 Responses to Manufacturing nostalgia

  1. gaby says:

    I think that it has to do with the idea of blury memory. more with the idea of how we represent a distant memory.
    During the last trip to Buenos Aires, I brought back a big collection of photos from dad’s parents and grand parents. There are some that are as sharp as. and you look at them and you almost think it is a theft. How can they be that crystal clear?
    I like some photos with textures, I like some photos without. Your photo of kinka definitely without. It is too good to smudge anything on it.
    ps… nice blog. very promising.

    • brenmurphy says:

      Gaby, glad you like the blog. That’s a really interesting observation. I’ve been thinking along the lines of the aesthetics of photography – you’re talking about the aesthetics of memory – I wonder, if the idea that the identification between pre-digital and the personal past holds up, if this feeling of being “cheated” is something you father would have felt on seeing his fathers photos…?

  2. gaby says:

    Im going to post a couple of photos of my great grandmother (1933) for you to see what Im talking about.
    my dad’s parents took many photos. they were in a good financial position and travelled a lot. Thus, my father grew up surrounded by photos. I have even seen a photo of my great grandmother during a trip from Europe to Argentina, where she is cruising the Amazon, and she is with the chief of an Amazonian tribe that had never ever seen a white woman (but, go figure, had seen a camera!). Im talking about the very very early 1900s.
    I guess my dad did not want to find blur in the photos. he wanted shiny and sharp. and I am not 100% (I can ask him) sure, but I bet he had no memory of old photos because there were no old photos (other than ones taken by professional photographers). In any case, when cameras became available dad was a kid, and their development (to better i.e. sharper accompanied till the birth of digital.
    Blur was a mistake or a sign of a bad (cheap) lens. I remember dad giving me a Kodak instamatic when I was very yound and saying “you will be amazed how sharp the photos are”.

  3. brenmurphy says:

    And what a picture. Anyone reading this, check out:

    I’ve flickrmailed you in response before seeing this comment. As I said, if this blog gets a readsersip I’d love you to talk to this photo.

    Too much to respond to just now!

  4. gaby says:

    I said “great grandmother” but it is grandmother. sorry.

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