telling minor stories to avoid a major one

Read This: This Is Not a Photograph by Barbecue Bros
September 21, 2010, 5:15 pm
Filed under: Read This | Tags: , ,

Great article that explores the recent fascination of bands using lo-fi, amateur analog photography for album covers. It starts with a discussion of Vampire Weekend‘s Contra but then touches on the other artists…

A lot of indie artists lately have felt something similar, it seems. Artists who sound about as different from each other as Vampire Weekend and the Dum Dum Girls have embraced the look and feel of old, amateur photography, often featuring images of childhood and family. Stuart McLamb of the Love Language found a great image of his mother– literally beaming in the unintended glare of a too-hot flash at night, and thought it the perfect album cover. Wolf Parade chose an image of a young Dante DeCaro and his two cousins to decorate the front of Expo 86, instead of some other evocation of the Vancouver World Expo they all attended. Crystal Castles moved from the very digital artwork for their first LP to a creepy snapshot they found on the internet that shows a young, goth-in-training girl walking away from a headstone. Fang Island decided to forever associate their first album of spazzy bro-punk with an adorable, faded-pink front-yard battle scene.

These are just recent examples. Over the past year, Wavves, Harlem, Dr. Dog, Toro Y Moi, Washed Out, Jaill, Woven Bones, and Active Child have each opted for shoebox-quality visuals as their sleeve decoration. Album art has long been a crucial multimedia component of popular music– often the first image we associate with the sounds, its representational role makes it inherently evocative, a symbol containing so much meaning. But it’s never looked quite like this until very recently. Neither a label-sanctioned thing– think Vaughan Oliver’s work for 4AD or Peter Saville’s for Factory– nor even rooted in a shared artistic movement, this trend has instead emerged in a strangely naturalistic fashion.

…Before discussing the trend against high quality, digital photography…

To put it bluntly, in 2010, we’re nostalgic for records because they’re objects. Objects that wear minor imperfections like biographical data or signs of authenticity. The same goes for photography– take the Fang Island cover photo, for instance. That thing that looks like an overlaid firework, next to the little girl’s head? That minor imperfection could have been Photoshopped out, but that misses the point of using the photo in the first place, right? Blemishes like that draw attention to what’s most important about that snapshot– about all pre-digital snapshots nowadays– the surface of the image. Leaving that small flaw on the photo– or hell, Photoshopping one in– signals that it’s an object subject to wear, not some infinitely copiable bit of data on a hard drive. Like the occasional pop and click of an LP, the hissiness of a basement 4-track recording, the wobbliness of an audiocassette, or those VHS tracking lines, distressed photos remind us that the objects we love have shelf lives, they duplicate poorly, and they age with us.

They also remind us of the ugliness possible with digital technology. In a recent column, New York Times tech culture columnist Virginia Heffernan lamented the “microrealist pointillist grotesque” aesthetic of HD and digital photography– a photographic revolution with the capacity of representing the human face and body with vicious clarity. For the average consumer, inexpensive, amateur level digital point-and-shoot cameras pitch megapixels in the same way that razor manufacturers pitch blades: the more you have, the better off you are. As in digital audio recording, the DIY revolution in digital photography of the past decade or so has valued sharpness, clarity, and infinite reproducibility over everything else.

Overall, a great read that was actually published over a week ago. You may start out interested in the album covers trend but I found the most interesting part of the article to be about Gorilla Vs. Bear’s use of Polaroids as well as the best-selling iPhone app Hipstamatic.



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