I am what they call a millennial. I was born in 1995 and struggle to recall a time where technology wasn’t a part of my life. I grew up with a Virgin Lobster flip phone which had an aerial and survived the washing machine several times. We had a family computer that sat in the hallway and had to be turned off when my Nan phoned the landline. Me and my brother spent Saturday’s on the PS1, trying to manoeuvre a blobby-looking Harry Potter through Quidditch hoops.
Yes, we grew up with technology. But we were not ruled by it. Crucially, social media didn’t rule our lives and photo editing didn’t become routine until we were in our late teens. Of course, when it became easy-peasy to use a filter here and zap a pimple there, we were quick to jump on it. Now, several years down the line, there is an underground rebellion of 90’s babies who are saying no to edited photographs, because, well, it’s just not cool anymore.
During my years at the University of Manchester, it became increasingly popular to exchange an Instagram filter for a grainy snap from a disposable camera. Snapchats were reserved for horrific hungover selfies as opposed to cute bunny filters. It seemed that, after watching the world of technology grow and humanity become reliant on it, students were rebelling and seeking out a time before everyone became a professional photographer. An editing app can be downloaded for free and you can take as many photos on your phone as you like. A single disposable camera will cost you £7. A Polaroid will cost you £70. Yes, It's not easy to achieve imperfection, it's definitely not cheap to achieve an imperfect, perfect photograph. However, young people are doing it, and going out of their way to reject edited perfection.
But why is this, exactly? Is it the result of panicking twenty-somethings who are diving back into the comforts of childhood? Is it simply a fad for the cool kids; a fashionable choice? Or is it indeed an active decision to go against technological perfection and capture a true moment in time?
Many would argue the latter. Students are joining together to rebel against mind-corrupting, image-manipulating technology. They are rebelling against a supposedly ‘fake life’, and yet, disposable images are just as unreal as Photoshopped ones. Yes, they capture a moment in time, but they represent a time before technology that simply doesn’t exist anymore. They create the illusion of a gritty and edgy setting which is unlikely to exist. It is just another form of editing. It is just another type of image manipulation.
And so, even in the millennial war against edited images, we have still fallen subject to a false reality. This begs the question, can we ever truly capture reality when technology has become so ingrained in our lives?
The point is, images have never truly captured reality. The concept of posing and capturing an image is in itself unnatural. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa projects a false reality just as a 21st Century magazine cover does. It has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the historical tradition of staged and embellished images.
Whether it’s a painting, a Polaroid or a poster on the side of a bus, images are never truly reality. They are often highly edited and pushed out into the world as ‘natural’. So in the quest for perfection, what is lost and/or gained in the editing of pictures? Why edit at all?