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On Borrowed Nostalgia and Retro Branding

Posted by: Gion-Men Kruegel-Hanna on April 16, 2012

You take a photo and make it look old and retro – and the company that makes this possible is worth $1 billion? Most users don't even remember those Polaroid cameras that took the photos that one had to shake in order to quickly develop the image.

With its billion-dollar purchase of Instagram, Facebook is buying more than just a company that produces a photo styling app — Instagram is a sharing and social networking platform. It is about making people feel good in the present moment — a moment shared through a retro filter. And that’s my issue with it.

Longing for nostalgia feels old and wrong. Watching the latest episodes of Mad Men, 'Instagramming' my daughters’ latest portrait and browsing through Yoox's vintage department, it can feel like we have nothing new to say any more. Retro doesn't make me feel good. I grew up with inflatable living room chairs, rubberised bib overalls and a mullet — and it wasn't fun. The chairs deflated quickly, the overalls stuck to my legs. And I am not even going to talk about the haircut!

Aged film effects, the Pan Am series or Topshop's '50s Diner' collection may bring a generation back to something that they never knew existed (because they are too young) or evoke, for their elders, something that they think was “better back then.”

Let’s take the popular faux film effect apps. Only through the accessibility and mobility of the smartphone was it possible for such an amazing fake return. The process of taking a photograph is both capturing the truth or reality of an instance and subjective creation (self-made), hence the craze for faux filters. Or as Susan Sontag stated: “Photography is not just about remembering, but also about creating.” So why are these filters so popular? It might not just be about creating on the fly and about feeling good about one’s own creation, but also about stating that what looks old must have relevance and substance in the present time — so it must be good. Even if it isn’t.

This is the down side with Instagram filters and everything retro: They put you in the past, behind the very moment when you took that photograph. All this borrowed nostalgia isn’t new, and it’s certainly not original. Just as 'nostalgia' originally was a description for severe homesickness, I am homesick for the new, the advanced and the exciting. In the rush to look back, are we failing to look forward, or even at the present?

Gion-Men Kruegel-Hanna is an Executive Creative Director in Interbrand’s London office.

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