Photography quite naturally lends itself to feelings and expressions of nostalgia, where nostalgia might be seen as a deep or wistful yearning or desire to reconnect or return to some imagined past. The spiritual life can often becomes nostalgic as one looks back at times when perhaps God felt closer, faith more real, and things more certain or black and white. Nostalgia also connects us back with people and places, though what we remember or imagine may bear little resemblance to the reality of those times, people, and places. Photography engages with nostalgia, I think, in two ways.
[Note: Image at top of post is me circa 1969]
Firstly, there are the snapshots of people, places, and times recorded in negative, prints, and slide. These can be carefully curated in albums, picture frames, and digital collections or haphazardly kept in shoeboxes, at the bottom of drawers, or out in the shed. These images can bring a flood of memories, connections to past events, and a desire to recover something of that past in the present. In some ways, the scrapbooking of photographs forms part of this kind of nostalgia.
Secondly, this desire to recreate or reexperience the past in the present, especially the mood of the past, can be found in photographers and photography looking back to old equipment, formats, and processing techniques. In digital contexts, we find camera manufactures provided in-camera image processing to produce images that look like they have been taken on old film stock, as well as collections of digital presets and filter packs that can be applied in post-production to “nostalgize” images. In analogue contexts, we see a rediscovery of physical film, developing prints, and a plethora of new and old photographic equipment reengaging with analogue photography.
YouTube channels such as Lucy Lumen’s Analog Adventures, Analog Resurgence, and One Month Two Cameras tap into this latter kind of nostalgia, with Analog Resurgence also providing advice of preserving and digitising collections.
Of course, camera and film manufacturers have traded on this sense of nostalgia forever, including the way that for a generation the idea of “Kodak Moments” permeated cultural memories.
This feeling of nostalgia is tied, in part, into the rejuvenation of instant photography found in the Fujifilm Instax cameras and the resurrected Polaroid range of cheap and cheerful cameras. Some of these are hybrid analogue and digital cameras like the Fijifilm Mini Evo which take digital photographs you can print directly from your camera. (See Digital Camera World: Best digital instant cameras: hybrid instant cameras and printers for a selection of different hybrid cameras)
The nostalgia element was one of the reasons I got my Olympus Trip 35 camera – a connection back to childhood and young adult memories of using analogue cameras and the memories those created. Similarly, even the digital cameras I use tend to look back to those rangefinder, compact style of camera good for travel and throwing in a backpack.
In spiritual contexts, the “testimony” of a person’s religious or spiritual life is often tinged with nostalgia – where “snapshots” of significant or mundane things connected to the experience and life of faith are laid out in a kind of montage. Images are selected and narrated in particular ways to give a kind of story on the life of the person – often with a persuasive dimension to communicate the significance of this story to others and to invent them to join it.
Of course, nostalgia makes itself known in a wide range of ways across in human lives and communities. It can be commercialized in fastfood restaurants or TV shows that seek to capture the sense of memory to engender postive feelings and, ultimately, monetary gain for those companies. It can be found in books, music, and comics, art and their curation, as well as in the way a funeral might be structured and stories told, or a good radio interview is played out.
If you’re interested in exploring nostalgia a little more then Chris Deacy’s Nostalgia Interviews podcast series (of some 160+ interviews) is a good place to have a listen. [Disclaimer: I’ve been interviewed]