Small Town, Cheap Filters (a.k.a How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Them)

To put this weird piece into perspective, I’ve always been a solemn loather of filters. Even the slightest post-processing addition via VSCO, or any other app for that matter, induced me with a legitimate contempt, and not simply because of the hate (or, shall we say, prejudice) towards the counterfeit nature of it all manifesting itself in the ongoing global obsession with empty aesthetics wherever you set your sights.


For me, it was more about the question of the future of art in general and about how these attempts at imitating designs and looks from the bygone eras and mish-mashing them with equally superficial edginess derived from the pop culture heritage of the last 3 – 4 decades essentially devalued the art itself, turning every smartphone owner into a presumably art-savvy and independently-minded bloke who knows three lines of description under the painting by Matisse (because it’s basically all the content in his new concept book of art history) and starts his day by filtering the heck out of his French-breakfast imitation. For me, it was sanctioned and shameless derision carried out by kids who bought the look yet didn’t read the book (except for a couple of bolded quotes when the situation was handy for visibly carrying it around). Post-postmodernism is at its ultimate stage- the age of “steal-this-look” where the style has finally completely mauled the substance. This was, of course, before I knew how seriously addictive the process of applying filters can become.



It all began whilst scrolling through an assortment of free and, thereby, mostly sub-standard photo applications on a visit to my rather remote-located hometown. It was the invigorating and airy early spring time- the magnificent transitional period, which, if you know what I’m talking about, basically demands to be photographed. Also, my mom wanted to take a walk, so there was not many options available. As I assumed that this process would be quite uneventful (since I’m also by no means a photographer), a toll-free app that could add a bit of inspiration to this seemed quite appropriate. Of course, I would never tell anybody (since I’m a solemn hater of the artsy-fartsy filter business), and these pictures would never see the light of day. Well, except when I would solitary scroll through them to cure my boredom while secretly being captivated by the ambiance they convey.



Since I acquired my first smartphone ridiculously late (for better or worse), this experience was, of course, totally thrilling and was close to the sensation of being a kid who was thrown into a free-to-take toy store. Indeed, I was scrolling greedily, as if I had to revenge my lack of knowledge and compensate for it by researching every third photo app out there. As I was pretty cautious not to spend a penny on an application for just a one-off guilty pleasure session, I ended up with the Vintage Cam app. You know, one of those a bit corny-looking apps with a less-than-handsome interface but with enough vintage authenticity provided by the filters to give it a shot. In fact, I was rather surprised by how well this B-movie of an application could actually mimic the look of the analog camera, though there was a bit of unintentional cheating going on. After the session, I realized that the hazy effect on the side was provided by the protective cover blocking the right half of the lens, as I was wearing a case intended for a different cellphone model. “Utilize the mistakes”; I remembered reading a line in this vein somewhere. Or was it Bowie who said that errors are much more interesting than clean cuts?



The town itself is a seriously small, typically post-industrial, post-soviet municipality (meaning that there was once a factory in the middle of nowhere and workers needed a place to stay, so they built a lot of Khrushchyovkas around it) mixed with a handful of much older buildings that constituted a small village during the 1920’s and 30’s. There are a couple of suburbian-type districts while the majority of its territory is occupied with the aforementioned soviet architecture marvels. Nothing much is going on, yet it’s quite a resort if you feel tired of constant exhaust fumes, overstuffed public transportation and random sirens sounding off in the middle of the night. Besides, just like it is with every hometown, there’s also something you cannot quite put your finger on. I guess it’s the still present childhood vibe, such as the memory of biking down the hill (seen in the photos) and feeling like the fastest and most elusive thing on the planet Earth. Now, this memory seems just as washed out and volatile as the photo itself, which is a good fit for some sort of a reverb-laden early Arcade Fire music video imagery. Home is home, after all. However, I still felt guilty for artificially infusing the images with analog photo aesthetic. If it was so dear to me in its natural state, why should I enhance it then? At the same time, I also realized that it was exactly the aesthetic my mind had already filtered the real life scenery with. The initial skepticism somewhat wobbled and started to subside. It was actually getting fun.



Gradually, I started to snap more and more whilst my ability to pick the right filter somewhat couldn’t keep up with my desire to perpetuate the next photo-worthy object (be it a pile of old planks, the cracks on the wall, or basically every piece with a pseudo-artistic appeal). A banal transformation was in progress. At some point, a peculiar thought crossed my mind. What a thrill it would be to snap these random sceneries using one of those truly sophisticated apps, e.g. the VSCO, 8mm Vintage Camera. The revelation was quick and simple. Even the straightforward application I was using was enough to recreate the miraculous mindset of the day; that is, the way I saw the day. Born in 1993, I saw the day as embodying a number close to that. I gave up quickly and without much resistance. Yes, it was the tired vintage trope; yes, it is annoying, for what could a relatively young Turk really understand about the concept of nostalgia? In the end, wasn’t it all just a retro glorification to make the sights and memory about them seem more important than they actually were? At this point, I was one of many who did it for the sake of making the result feel and look significant. Maybe we strive to aestheticize reality to make it more bearable? Regardless, the images, despite composition being all over the place and all the fundamental photography rules tossed out the window, seemed so special and striking in their own magnificent, lo-fi way. Of course, I also felt a sense of inadequacy, acknowledging my ill-tempered sentiment towards people who went through the same wonderful discovery. Everything around me seemed to invite another snap.



Needless to say, by the end of it, I was totally enthralled. I was ready to try out whichever app came my way, freebie or not. It didn’t matter anymore. Yes, I was betraying my, as it turned out, flimsy ideals. Yes, I did feel that these photos acquired a kind of transcendental quality through the appliance of filters (yet they didn’t really). The whole point is, these apps are not made with the intention to be used as a means of creating groundbreaking art for the history books of the future (yet, they also don’t exclude such options). It’s all about childish, innocently fun times while acquiring beautiful results in the blink of an eye. It’s not about raising the status with a claim for some serious artistic credibility, but to have your own little moments of pleasure, even if they arrive through a synthetic layer of photo film defects. To cut it short, there are occasions like this when one learns to embrace the beauty of today’s technology. Maybe that’s the whole point? The tools used to produce great art from the past gradually become available to the general public, as it’s the mission of a true genius to invent and leave the invention for the public to consume. While the geniuses are busy working on the next big thing, we can happily indulge in this without overestimating the seriousness of what we do. Whatever it was, it was wonderful. Needless to say, the screen is now laden with with flashy icons of different photo apps. It’s a whole new world to explore!