Joining the Pixels

It’s what happens when you’re out of the country for more than a decade – you lose touch. These days it’s easy to keep in contact with friends and family via email and sms. It’s also easy to read the local news sites and keep abreast of the developments back home. However, it’s the subtler changes that I missed, and even now, almost two years after my return, I’m still struggling to understand.

I first heard the term ‘hipster‘ a couple of weeks into my TAFE course during a Photoshop lesson. Over the next few months, my fellow students would occasionally joke with our teacher about doing this or that and being a ‘hipster’. I never paid it a great deal of attention, associating it in my mind with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and several other developments that I’d missed the take up of, and now decided that I could live with out. I’d got myself a flickr account and that was enough social media for me.

My lack of curiosity prevented me from being able to join a lot of the dots and understand aspects of the culture I’d returned to. In particular, I couldn’t comprehend the popularity of taking photos with a mobile phone and then making them look like snap shots from the 70s. To me it seemed this craze had erupted from nowhere. What I’d missed during my thirteen years in a totally foreign culture, was the development of subcultures happening in my own culture. It wasn’t until a couple of years after I left Sydney that the term ‘hipster’ begun being used to describe the subculture that, by that time, was spreading into the suburbs of New York. During the 00s I missed the infiltration of this subculture throughout the Western world and it’s gradual appropriation by mainstream culture.

In the world of photography, hipster explains most of the developments that I was having trouble understanding in my previous post – the obsession with ‘retro’ or ‘vintage’ styles, the ‘I don’t care’ attitude towards technical skills. Two blog postings that I found insightful are Photoshelter’s “16 Things Hipsters Did To Improve Photography” and B&H Photo’s “Signs That You’re a Hipster Photographer“. They’re both written tongue in cheek, but that hasn’t stopped many people from taking offence, especially with the latter.

Anyway, I’m grateful to both these posts for helping me see the big picture. Like most subcultures, like hippy, punk and grunge before (to name but a few), hipster has now infiltrated into the mainstream. What was reactionary, at first becomes trendy, then commercial, and eventually passé. A sure sign that the fringe has become acceptable is when designers begin creating fonts that reflect the subculture’s attributes. There are already plenty of ‘hipster’ fonts available. A modern equivalent would probably be the development of apps. While being shunned by ‘real’ hipsters, Hipstamatic (iPhone) and Vignette (Android) have been embraced by the general population.

There doesn’t seem to be any real agreement as to what a ‘hipster’ is. A lot of the definitions revolve around dress. It also seems to be a classification to which very few want to belong to – it’s all about avoiding labels. However, where photography is concerned, there is a look that is easier to identify:

Hipsters love to heavily cross-process their images because someone in the upper echelons of what is considered artistic suddenly stated that giving your images that look turns them into immediate art. Other variations that can be added are soft focus, pin hole, and combining many images into a photo-booth strip.

– Signs That You’re a Hipster Photographer

Looking through the semi-finalists of the Moran Photographic Prize, it seems obvious to me that this concept of ‘immediate art’ has well and truly permeated contemporary photography. The influence of hipster culture is easy to see in a significant percentage of the photographs. While I’m not a fan of this style, I’m now happy that I can identify it and understand its origins. Most of the confusion I had been feeling during the past few days has now disappeared.

So now it’s time to cash in on this trend, and of course, there are plenty of people keen to tell me how. As the “Add the hipster vintage look to photos with Photoshop CS6” tutorial says, “The option to add retro effects to your photographs is now a required  tool in any self-respecting photo editor on the App Store”. However, this technique is extremely basic and not very interesting. The Photoshop actions offered by SparkleStock at “Freebie: 10 Instagram Photoshop Options” look more interesting but I haven’t as yet downloaded them.

I was impressed by Retrographer, a Photoshop plugin, designed to undo all the advances of digital photography and create “that really believable, organic analogue look and feel.” It provides the computer artist with an endless range of retro possibilities. However, I seriously doubt that I personally would ever use it enough to warrant my purchasing it.

I settled on the “How to Make Your Photos Look Hipster With Photoshop” tutorial. It’s very easy to do with relatively pleasing results (and they provide you with a multitude of free ‘light leaks’). To create my ‘hipster masterpiece’ above, I also cropped to a square format, tilted the horizon, and added a little grain as well as the ubiquitous vignette.

Now all I have to do is wait for the next photography competition.