Hipstamatics: “Digital photography never looked so analog”

I walk out the station, go down Tavistock Place, get to the Orange Dot Gallery… and saunter right past it. The Orange Dot Gallery is not clearly obvious; to say it is unobtrusive would be an understatement. I realize my mistake about two blocks later when the numbers on the doors stop descending and start ascending again (i.e. I’ve hit a whole new street). Great start for my first independent venture into the world of commercial art galleries. Future gallery-goers take note: The Orange Dot Gallery is the tiny shop with the sign “Continental Stores” in big red and white lettering above it – an accidental oversight, or a witty comment in the same vein as Magritte’s painting of a pipe, titled “This is Not a Pipe”…?


All this is forgotten the minute you step into the gallery itself. With its large floor-to-ceiling windows spanning the gallery-front, and walls and ceiling consisting of bleached white wooden slats, the gallery oozes organic intimacy; the perfect setting for the Hipstamatic prints carefully lined up in 3 horizontal rows, hung simply with wooden pegs on lines of string.

What is so special about this particular exhibition is the very nature of the photographs showcased; these are Hipstamatic prints, taken by ordinary people, on ordinary iPhones, using the new Hipstamatic app. developed by Apple (an app. that aims to recreate the feel of the original Hipstamatic analogue cameras). They were carefully chosen from the blog hipstamatics.com, a sort of online photo reel showcasing the best Hipstamatic shots from around the world. Anyone can share their own Hipstamatic photos, and anyone can scroll through the continuously growing photo reel of Hipstamatic shots. The Orange Dot Gallery chose 157 prints from the blog to display, and the accessible and personal nature of the blog is reflected in the intimate subjects of the prints themselves. There is a close-up of a woman sleeping on a train, a shot of the picture-taker’s partner in bed with arms flung over her face in care-free abandonment, a little girl dressed in a wonder woman costume and wellies, cats (LOTS of cats), all coloured with the same woozy, dreamy feel of the lo-fi photography that the Hipstamatic app. produces. Magical slices of ordinary people’s everyday lives.

Hipstamatics by Gary Cohen & Jay Lag

Hipstamatics by Olivia Snape & Steph Thompson

The original Hipstamatic analogue camera was produced in 1982 by the two brothers Bruce and Winston Dorbowski; they manufactured and sold a total of 157 cameras (the same number of prints chosen by the Orange Dot Gallery) by 1984, before they were tragically killed in a car accident. They wanted to create a camera that cost less than the film, and so the Hipstamatic was created; a camera made entirely out of plastic, including the lenses. Their aim was to bring photographic art to the masses. As Bruce Dorbowski said: “It doesn’t matter if the photos aren’t perfect – as long as people are capturing memories I will be happy.”

“Capturing memories” is exactly what each of the Hipstamatic prints showcased seemed to do best. Looking at all the prints was like being privy to a very private, personal scrapbook; each evoked a dreamy intimacy, indulging in nostalgic charm.

However this purpose of the Hipstamatic to record memories was put to slightly different use in 2010, when Damon Winter, a New York Times photographer, ditched the traditional photojournalist gear in favour of his iPhone and set off to capture “the day-to-day trials of the first battalion, 87th Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division in northern Afghanistan” (James Estrin, The New York Times, Nov 21 2010). Winter claimed that “Composing with the iPhone is more casual and less deliberate”, and that “the soldiers often take photos of each other with their phones, so they were more comfortable than if I had my regular camera.” Winter’s photographs capture perfectly the long, tedious days faced by the battalion’s soldiers. There are photos of soldiers resting in a run-down compound, manning a machine-gun, and taking turns to make use of a rusty metal bed frame lined with cushions, the compound’s sole piece of furniture. These pictures have a poignancy that is all their own. War so often seems to have a veneer of bloody action and violent glamour in the public consciousness; and while intense fighting is of course a part of it, rarely are we exposed to the gruelling, equally strenuous monotony that is the flipside to this.

Damon Winter, New York Times

Though it produces old-school analogue pictures, the Hipstamatic is very much of-the-moment, in its combination of our fascination with anything retro and vintage with the very modern preoccupation of instant everything (you can upload your photos directly to Facebook, Flickr or e-mail with the press of a button). The iPhone app. is easy to use but also flexible; you can swap lenses, flashes, films and so on with the swipe of a finger.

A revolution has started. No longer are beautifully-taken photographs the preserve of those with expensive high-brow clunky equipment or expert Photoshop skills. You don’t even have to own a camera, or be particularly “arty”. Just step back, push the button, and let the Hipstamatic app. work its magic.

You can download the Hipstamatic iPhone app. from the Apple App. Store for £1.19.

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