|Faux vintage photo I shot with my phone|
So, what exactly are these faux vintage photos imitating? What are the real photos they are based on?
One of my favorite aspects of working as a Photo Archivist is identifying photographs and the processes that were used to create them usually decades ago. At the Smithsonian we have images in our collection that range from the very early days of photography to contemporary images- from daguerreotypes to digital.
Here are some interesting photographs that I found in our archival repositories via the Smithsonian Collections Search Center. I can’t cover in this short blog article every type of photographic process, deterioration, and other factors like camera, lens, and filters types that affect the overall look of photographs. So instead, I’ll give a quick overview of some of the most popular types of real analog photos imitated by faux vintage photo apps.
Albumen prints were the most popular type of print in the late 1800s. Created mostly between 1850 and 1920, they were usually yellow/brown or purple/brown in hue, depending, for example, on whether they were toned in a darkroom or if the images deteriorated over time. When albumen prints begin to deteriorate they yellow and also begin to fade, especially in the highlights or lighter portions of the print. As the albumen layer of the photo begins to deteriorate it also leaves a crackle-like pattern on the surface of the image. You can observe this more easily by holding the image almost parallel to the light source and looking at it in raking light.
|Whirling Dervishes, NAA INV 04027200|
Felix Bonfils’ 1867 albumen print of whirling dervishes from the National Anthropological Archives appears to be in great condition for its age, but it does show signs of deterioration. Notice how the pattern on the carpet has faded, as have the details and folds in the white clothing. The image also has a variety of scratches, missing corners, and it has yellowed in the upper left hand corner. By imitating details like these, faux vintage photographs can look so authentic.
Gelatin silver prints
Faux vintage photography lovers may find this 1944 gelatin silver print from the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection inspiring. This portrait of artist Marion Greenwood is classically lit and composed. Moreover, its B&W form, her hairstyle, clothing, and even the casual way she poses with a cigarette are iconic of this bygone era.
Many of the faux vintage photo apps mimic various types of chromogenic color prints, film, and transparencies along with their associated deterioration. Have you seen or created faux vintage color photos that have exaggerated yellow/ orange or maybe blue/purple hues? How about images where the colors are somewhat washed-out or faded? What about color images that include film markings and borders? These are probably imitating early chromogenic color images. Produced mostly between the 1960s through the 1990s, they were the 20th century’s most popular type of color process. Commercial, amateur, and eventually artist photographers embraced this process.
|Kids Swimming Under Water|
Dye Diffusion Transfer Process / Instant Photography
|Three people at the beach looking at Polaroids|
This 1980s example from the Archives of American Art’s Colin de Land collection documents how instant images were commonly produced and enjoyed. The image itself is a Polaroid which depicts a group of young adults reviewing other Polaroids that they just shot on the beach. Instant photography was not only about the final image but also the experience- snap a picture, eagerly wait for the image to reveal itself, and then repeat. This ritual of sorts can’t be imitated by faux vintage photography, since the images are digital and not physical prints.
Faux or real, new or old - I hope this helps you identify some of the types of images in your digital library of faux prints or possibly in that shoebox of family photographs that’s sitting in your closet.