Hipstamatic War

Left: Amindi, a refugee from Kandahar province, walks through the Charahi Qambar refugee camp on Feb. 27. Right: A U.S. Marine guards Combat Outpost 7171 in Helmand province on Oct. 28, 2010.

When I saw these war photographs taken by Balazs Gardi in Afghanistan with the Hipstamatic app on an iPhone, I thought of Nathan Jurgensen’s thoughtful take on how faux-vintage photographs are made to create a nostalgia for the present. Sure enough, when I went back to look at his first essay on the issue (which treats this contemporary trend generally), Jurgenson had already written up his thoughts on Gardi’s Afghanistan photographs.

Jurgenson writes, “saturated, vignetted, faded, scratched and portrayed on simulated photo paper, Hipstamatic war photos frame contemporary conflict as like the wars our parents and grandparents fought”. (See his full essay here)

I don’t think that the images actually look like they were taken during our parents’ or grandparents’ wars — I think they look like they were made with Hipstamatic, which is, oddly enough, a very contemporary look. It’s similar to the way Sally Mann’s wet collodion prints, or Chuck Close’s daguerreotypes, or any number of the artists working in what Lyle Rexer has called “The Antiquarian Avant-Garde” don’t actually look like 19th century objects…. instead they look like late 20th/early 21st century objects made to be reminiscent of older objects. [Jurgenson clarifies and nuances this piece of his argument in his original essay, as he rightly points out in the comment below — sorry not to include that info in the original post!]

In this case, the images’ object-ness is far less an issue (when do we look at prints of images taken with Hipstamatic, except in art shows about cell phone photography?) But I haven’t yet seen much writing about is the quality and effectiveness of the images themselves — filter or no filter.

What I’d like to spend more time figuring out is the collaborative and experimental photojournalism project Gardi is working on, Basetrack, which Foreign Policy describes as “a multiplatform, social-media cornucopia; a hybrid of digital maps and feeds, Facebook posts and musings, interviews and stunning photographs.”

In series of eight: Top row (left to right): U.S. Marines and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers leave Combat Outpost 7171 on Oct. 27, 2010.; Marines of the 8th Battalion, Weapons Company, start a security patrol on Oct. 28, 2010; a construction site between Kandahar and the city’s airport on Feb. 24; U.S. Marines leave the battlefield during a military operation near Doghaka village in Musa Qala district on Nov. 7, 2010.

Bottom row (left to right): U.S. Marines during a military operation on Nov. 7, 2010; a billboard on the highway between Kandahar and its airport on Feb. 24; U.S. Marines walk back to their base after a shura, a tribal meeting with elders from the nearby village, on Oct. 27, 2010; Afghan men in the back of a taxi in Kandahar on Feb. 24.

Left: Lance Cpl. Kevin Daly during a military operation near Doghaka village in Musa Qala district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, on Nov. 7, 2010. Right: Ali Mohammad, a 10-year-old refugee from Kandahar province, stands in front of his makeshift house in the Charahi Qambar refugee camp in Kabul on Feb. 27.

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2 Responses to Hipstamatic War

  1. very cool, and thanks for checking out my essays!

    You write, “I don’t think that the images actually look like they were taken during our parents’ or grandparents’ wars — I think they look like they were made with Hipstamatic, which is, oddly enough, a very contemporary look.”

    I agree. This was something I clarified in the general essay and should have included in the war essay as well: The Hipstamatic photo certainly does not trick anyone. In order for “nostalgia for the present” to work is for the photos to also scream that they are of our current moment. The vintage filtering goes so far that they are more vintage than actual vintage photos. However, you are right to disagree with the quote in my war essay because I did not clarify this there. I could have better stated that these photos are made to remind us of the look of the wars our parents and grandparents fought. I think these photos work much in the same way a brand new 1950’s diner does: we all know it is a simulation, but uncovering this fact does not liquidate the power of vintage/retro/nostalgia.

    Thanks again.

  2. Hi Nathan, thanks for commenting. I almost added a line in the post that you had nuanced this argument in the first essay — I’ll go back and do that now. It’s good and fascinating stuff, I’m glad you’re writing about it.

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