Warning: This Image

I’ve been thinking about lost iconography of the past recently.

It started when looking back over GMT 2000 for the first time in at least a decade or so; it’s a collection of photography from the Magnum agency taking in multiple locations across the U.K. on the last week of the 20th century, and it’s very much a snapshot — pun only half intended — of the cultural zeitgeist of that curious moment in time. Looking at that got me nostalgic not only for that era and those places, but also for the “trash photography” I used to indulge in when I was in art school and just fresh out of it.

The term has been borrowed by others and abandoned by all, now, but “trash photography” for a brief moment of the 1990s was intentionally throwaway, pop photography — done quickly and cheaply, and with subjects that were intentionally lowbrow or accidental: graffiti on walls, branding in store windows, that kind of thing. It’s an aesthetic that I still enjoy, even if iPhones and smartphones of all makes have tended to transform just what counts as throwaway photos in this day and age. (Is everything trash photography now? There’s an argument to be made that it is, far more than it’s “content.” Alas.)

Thinking about this reminded me of the photographic process that was: shooting photos on film, and then having to have that developed into negatives and the finished prints. I’d take them to a local store to handle, and because so many of them were out of focus or blurry — usually intentionally so, but not always, I admit — they’d be returned to me with a sticker attached explaining that there was something wrong with the image.

That sticker or ones like it because, in its own right, an iconic image to an entire generation, I think: an editorial comment when least expected, a judgment that seemed to misunderstand the intent of what people were trying to do. The aesthetics of those stickers had their own messages, their own meanings, and they became visual objects in their own right.

But those stickers don’t exist anymore in the popular consciousness, because who gets photos developed these days? There’s no outside voice letting you know that you weren’t in focus, or that the lighting was too low, or whatever; you just get whatever you see on your screen.

It feels like a sad thing, for those stickers to be consigned to history. It feels like a loss, even though I could not come up with a coherent, aesthetic argument as to why that’s actually the case. This might just be what nostalgia is, I guess.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.