I’ve been intrigued for a long time with Lo-Fi photography – the weird and wacky images that come out of cheap plastic cameras like Holgas and Lomos. I’ve even mastered the art of turning my pristine DSLR images into gritty messed-up, light-leaked Holga images by using careful Photoshop work.
But there’s a problem there. It just doesn’t feel right to deliberately mess a photo up. And it shows. I remember working with aleatoric painting techniques (i.e. splatter painting) back in the 1980s, and noticing that if I exerted direct control the results would be visible. You just can’t fake a chance event.
There are all sort of iPhone apps you can use that will grunge up your images, but something seems wrong about those methods. Maybe it’s just that I saw it before it was grunged up, and I did the grunging, so I can’t look at it with fresh eyes.
The solution here is Hipstamtic’s random mode. Between each photo, shake the camera to get some new random combination of ‘lens’ and ‘film’ and you get wholly unpredictable results. It’s a very nice level of control – you get to point the camera, you get to choose the subject, but the exact treatment that tha camera applies will be a mystery until you it ‘develops’ a minute later.
Recently I was working on a serious shoot using a serious camera with a very wide lens. But since I’ve got my phone on me (hey, it’s a phone, you can actually use it to phone people too) I’d sometimes see a potential opportunity for a shot with a longer focal length. Taking out the iPhone and giving it a shake, it took this shot, using the Salvador 84 setting…
I never expected anything like that to come of the shot, and it would never have occurred to me to lay the image back on itself like that.
Another evening I was walking along a street in the evening in Christchurch to discover that the street runs right through a graveyard. This is one of the shots I took, again with randomised settings. Looks like a poster for a Hammer horror film!
Lastly, the morning after getting that graveyard shot, I woke un in a motel room, looking at the ceiling. The light was coming in through the window, making an interesting pattern. It was actually the iPhone (in alarm clock mode) that had woken me up. The walls were painted a cream colour, but Hipstamatic is much too cool for cream and has tinted the image red.
Perhaps the moral to this tale is that the best camera is the one that you have with you.
I tend to regard the iPhone as a fun toy more than a serious camera anyway, and so I tend to use it on high risk subjects. Things that I might not get the serious camera out for. Most of the shots I take with it are junk, but there are some gems too, and I’m consistently surprised by how many gems come from Hipstamatic’s random settings.
But most importantly, the process is really enjoyable. It’s a lot of fun. Actually it’s some of the most fun I’ve had with photography for a long time!
I don’t plan on changing the way I do my ‘serious’ photography, but I usually have my iPhone in my pocket, and it’s going to be left set to randomise the settings with a shake between photos. It actually adds another layer to the photographic experience. The joy of serendipity!