I hardly ever look at snapshots that people post on the web. I’m on Facebook a lot but it’s mostly to communicate with far away friends. Sometimes I will take a peek at old snapshots that a friend has posted but I’ll hardly ever look at new photos. I joined some snapshot sharing website ages ago but never go on it. The reason is that most people take bad photos and even if they take some good ones that don’t know to edit the bad ones out. That’s always they way it’s been with snapshot photography but with the advent of Facebook and other sites it’s easier than ever for people to share their awful snapshots. Most people don’t know their pictures are bad and I don’t blame them for wanting to share their photos but I don’t look too often. But lately I’ve been noticing a change in snapshot photography.

The change mostly has to do with camera phone photography and the filters available on the camera phones. “Hipstamatic” is an example of one for the iPhone. It was sometime in the late 1980’s when I first heard of “Lomography”. You see, the Lomo was a cheap Russian camera that was making it’s way over to the West. They supposedly had nice glass but were also plastic pieces of crap and were prone to light leak and had other flaws. But that’s why people liked them. When you shot with a Lomo you were not always sure what you were going to get. This appealed to a certain group of people who weren’t into the photographer’s usual attempt to control things in order to make a photo.

I never shot with a Lomo but it sounded interesting to me. I decided when I first picked up a camera that I wasn’t going to try and control everything like a normal photographer but would work with what I got. I get enough of trying to control everything when I paint or draw and so am a little more losey-goosey when I take photos. As a consequence my photo aesthetic isn’t the same as a lot of people’s. Blurry is as important to me as clear focus. And not blurry in a “Controlling depth of field” way but blurry in a more random and unexpected movement way.

Most photography is about control. Control what’s in focus and what’s out of focus. Control the light and shadow. Control the color and the grain. Control, or at least appear to be in control of, your subject. All of this has leaked down to the snap -shooter as “Turn on the flash, face the camera, lean in, and smile. Half of the photos on Facebook show people with big toothy grins and they are all leaning into the center of the camera despite there being plenty of room to fit them all in. This is a legacy of the days when cameras didn’t have wide angle lenses like almost all snap shot cameras have now.

What I’ve noticed lately is that the old snapshot aesthetic is starting to change. What Hipstamatic and other camera phone apps do is mimic the random light leak and other faults of cheap cameras like the Lomo. They mimic the old 1970’s film look too and plenty of other strange things. All live, simple to use, and on you iPhone’s nice screen. And then upload it to the web on the go. No computer needed. People are having fun with it and it’s creating a new aesthetic. Blurry, grainy, casual, and candid are gaining ground. All tools I like to use in my photo toolbox.

There is also a bit of backlash against Hipstamatic pictures too. After all, it has “Hip” right in it’s name and hipsters annoy some people. It’s not a surprise because there was a backlash against Lomography too. Most photographers spend all their time trying to be in control of what their photo is going to look like. That takes a lot of time, effort, and skill. You have to envision what the photo will look like, plan the steps you need to do, and have the technical skill to make that vision into a photo.

Now along comes another photographer who says to heck with picture taking skill I’m going to take a lot of pictures with my unpredictable camera and see if any come out interesting. The skill is in the editing. Choosing which pictures are good. Of course the photographer who uses all his skills before the editing is a bit flabbergasted because this other way of photography downplays a traditional photographer’s skill set.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret. The first photographer is using the law of averages to his advantage just like the second one is. Though he plans out and sets up his shot he also exposes a lot of frames of film. He doesn’t press that shutter just once. The law of averages is your friend in photography. If I could paint the same picture a dozen times in the time it takes to paint one and pick the one that came out best I’d have a lot more good paintings. That’s just the way the medium of photography works.

An interesting old time example of the blurry, grainy, casual, and candid aesthetic that I mention can be found in an old TV show I’ve be watching recently. The opening credits to “The Rockford Files”. I never really noticed before a few weeks ago but the opening has no moving pictures in it. It’s all still shots as the music plays and the camera pans and zooms on the still shots. And the pictures are a mixture of blurry, grainy, casual, and candid. Notice it the next time you watch the show.

So despite me occasionally reading some random photographer poo-pooing Hipstamatic photos people continue to take them and embrace a new snapshot aesthetic. I hope it catches on even more because me poo-pooing the old snapshot aesthetic certainly hasn’t decreased the number of bad photos by any significant amount. Maybe technology can succeed where I have failed.