By Wayne Cosshall
It seems like everywhere I look I am seeing rough, abused and imperfect images. Why is this?
In recent years photography has become quite perfect. Cameras are generally light tight, their exposure and focus systems work well, and digital printing gives us wonderful prints that are totally repeatable. Of course, human nature being what it is, before we had achieved this we wanted it. Now we have it, we want something else, in fact anything else.
How is grungy photography manifesting? In very many ways. The use of plastic-bodied cameras that leak light and have unpredictable results, such as the Lomo and Diana cameras embodied by the Lomography movement (and sold by the company of the same name) has reached cult proportions, with books published and exhibitions organized. Smartphone and general cell phone photography is now the norm and the most common camera on Flickr is the iPhone. Film is back in favour among some. Popular apps add noise, vignetting, fogging and more. The use of non-digital and alternative brand papers is on the rise and techniques such as transfers and emulsion lifts are becoming popular again. Digital prints are sandpapered, sandblasted and burnt.
Is it nostalgia? Not entirely, but nostalgia is certainly part of the appeal. For many, there seems to be a superficial attraction to an imagined simpler time in photography. Of course part of that may also be tied to memories of youth, or easier, more secure days. But there are also other factors at work.
There is a mistaken belief that the hand of the photographer is not visible in these perfect digital days. I say “mistaken” because if you think of all the ways that your decisions, your interactions, and your mouse movements influence the resulting image you will see that your hand is definitely and heavily involved. What is often missing is the actual physical action of your hand directly on the print, unless you do hand-coloring or other post-printing action. So this desire for a more manual mark of the artist is also part of the equation. We can see this in the success of the three wonderful artists of the Digital Atelier who have shown us how to combine digital printing with traditional printmaking techniques to create new forms of art.
There is also the recognition that the world is not all clean and digital, so why should our images be all clean and digital? Perhaps this is why some photographers choose to add noise, old-style camera artifacts, and other imperfections when processing their images.
For this image, I used my digital camera with a plastic, distorting lens called a Lensbaby. The lens introduces blur and vignetting, which I enhanced during post-processing.
Another factor that many view as absent from digital imaging is the happy accident. We see this with the love of the Lomo and Diana cameras that can have light leaks, lens flares, slow shutter speed blur and much more.
What is truly great and exciting about this trend is that is opens up possibilities. No longer do we need to worry if the only camera we have with us is our smartphone. We can happily shoot away, guilt-free, and just enjoy our photography without worrying about some exacting standard of perfection that must be met. It also means that if you are the sort of person who likes to get your hands dirty then you can. You can mix analog and digital processes as it suits, modify and invent, do what you will.
The acceptance of grungy photography means complete freedom. We are free to be the sort of person we really are, take the types of images we want, do to them what we will, and present them in the way we want.