Skip to main content

Point and Shoot Nostalgia: iPhone Photo Apps for the Contemporary Retro Traveler

In the history of contemporary art photography, the transition from film to digital in the 1990s inspired a creative counter wave of explorations in increasingly archaic photographic equipment and techniques - daguerreotypes, tintypes, the wet collodion process, cyanotypes, the camera obscura, and so forth. Even in amateur photography, as digital cameras produced clean and perfect shots, allowing untrained photographers to mimic the work of professionals, some people longed for the look of imperfect analog photographs - images blurred around the edges, scratched, off-color, or odd.

Early in the 1990s, a visionary group of Austrian students devoted themselves to saving a mass-produced Soviet camera from the 1980s, the Lomo LC-A, that made such images. The subsequent Lomography craze, along with its playful set of instructions to disobey conventional rules, introduced the values of art photography to a larger public. The resulting film prints, still requiring lab development, often looked much cooler and less predictable than the best stuff from an expensive digital SLR camera. And what about those old Polaroid and Instamatic cameras from the past? Yes, they, too, have their fans.

The look, and in some cases even the feel, of popular lo-tech analog cameras, is now available for the iPhone, thanks to several clever, fun and useful apps. Many of the best apps greatly improve the iPhone's built-in camera, automatically improving the clarity or available light even without adding special filters or lenses. Some specialize in a particular look while others feature a range of styles.


How do these iPhone apps apply to the streets of New York? While I haven't yet jettisoned my point and shoot Panasonic Lumix, I'm enjoying the playfulness of the iPhone apps while out on my strolls through the city. I enjoy the ease of taking an image, the accessibility of creative choices on the spot and the convenience of sharing the image on Twitter or Facebook. Beyond these qualities, however, I'm enjoying the results of this odd mashup of new technology and vintage aesthetics. Depending on my mood and the choice of filters, I can make a moment on the New York street look like it's from 1885 or 1962. With the ability to make a subject more blue or more red, more sharp or more faded in the iPhone, I must look harder with my own nearsighted vision, corrected through blue-tinted solarized progressive lenses, to understand what image is inscribed on my retina for later memories. Just lately, however, Washington Square Park has looked a little more romantic to me, Broadway a bit more Parisian, and the East Village just a little bit green.


CameraBag
Settings on this versatile app encourage matching the scene with an appropriate filter. The lovely Helga and LOLO filters mimic lomography, with the latter paying homage to the Lomo LC-A. Other filters simulate black and white, Polaroid, 1962, and 1974. The "Cinema" setting (above), with its appropriate aspect ratio of 16:9 and silver screen effects, is particularly intriguing.


Hipstamatic
Celebrating the look of vintage toy cameras, the app's proportioned design, with the simulated camera filling the iPhone's screen on its horizontal axis, makes using the app intuitive and easy. Interchangeable lenses, flashes, and films provide some variety, with additional features available for purchase. One of the most intriguing photography apps in the iTunes apps store.


The Best Camera
The motto of this tripartite company (app, book, and community) founded by Chase Jarvis is "The Best Camera is The One That's With You." Filters include Candy, Jewel, Paris (below), Slate, Fade, Warm, Cool, and more, plus functions to make the image square or give it a frame.

I've just acquired two apps that I'm still exploring but like very much:

Format126
Inspired by the 1963 cartridge-based square 126 film format, mostly associated with the late, great Kodak Instamatic, Format126 includes several inspiring settings such as PolaColor for the old Polaroid look, LOFI (for dreamy colorful toy camera looks), and particularly good black and white settings.

Lo-Mob
Low-tech photography with this app includes an impressive range of effects. Medium format and retro effects and choices in 35mm film (even slide film!) make this app versatile and fun.

In addition to the apps that simulate analog photography, others allow specific looks. The popular Color Splash, one of the top-selling non game apps (CNBC), involves turning images to grayscale and then adding color for highlights. Pano for iPhone stitches together a sequence of images for a panorama. Several apps focus on black and white images. Many apps appropriate different kinds of image software.

For additional reading on this burgeoning field and to see some wonderful examples, consult the blogs iPhoneography (the author is one of the creators of the app Format126) and Life in LoFi: iphoneography.

One master of iPhone photo apps is a friend of mine living in Wisconsin and who goes by the online name of xenia elizabeth. See her Flickr photostream (xenia elizabeth) here for beautiful examples of low-tech iPhoneography.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple. From top to bottom: Washington Square Park in the snow (CameraBag with Helga setting); MacDougal Street (CameraBag with Cinema setting); Washington Square Park pathway in the melting snow (CameraBag with LOLO filter) E. 9th Street near 2nd Avenue (Hipstamatic); near Grace Church, Broadway and 11th (The Best Camera, Paris setting). More images may be found in this set at Flickr WOTBA.

Related posts:
The Lomo-Leica Walk
How to Take Better Pictures with the iPhone 3G Camera
The more recent posts, Postcards from a Walk on St. Mark's Place and W. 8th Street and The Many Lives of Second Avenue, are illustrated with pix taken with the Lo-Mob app.

Comments

Fascinating post, Teri. I have to laugh at all of this, though, because camera makers--even cellphone camera makers--work so hard to get rid of imperfections and flaws that these apps strive to emulate. I remember poring over lens reviews back in the day, seeing how well the battle for the perfect lens was going.

Personally, I've shot a boatload of film, in an amazing variety of cameras, good, bad and ugly. Now that I've switched to digital, I'll be just as happy if I never shoot another frame of film in my life. I have a minuscule collection of vintage cameras, including a few I shot with. I love to look at them, but never need to use them again.
Teri Tynes said…
Thanks, Terry.
Like you I have a collection of film cameras, mostly ones I liked and couldn't throw away.
I'm getting a big kick out of experimenting with these camera phone apps, but's too funny to make images that look like faded photos from the past.

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

At the New Moynihan Train Hall, and the Zen of Going Nowhere

After slowly wandering around the Moynihan Train Hall , opened earlier this year in the James A. Farley Post Office Building across from Penn Station, an Amtrak worker approached me and asked if he could help with directions. “No,” I replied, “I’m just here to look at the station.”  Moynihan Train Hall, between Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue, 31st Street, and 33rd Street in Midtown Manhattan I wasn’t taking a train anywhere, not an Amtrak train to Philadelphia or to Boston. I was here to look at this impressive, even enlightening building. The architectural design is somewhat restrained and serious. Bright signage at the Moynihan Train Hall At a time when the idea of actual travel is just picking up, for some New Yorkers like myself, just the novelty of seeing a new transportation project in the city seems to suffice. It’s like mental preparation for taking an actual trip.  Looking up I remember catching Amtrak trains at the old Penn Station, not the beautiful and monumental edifice that

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change. Hipstamatic iPhone images of contemporary Greenwich Village by Walking Off the Big Apple (Revised and updated.) Flipping through  Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today.    On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

A New York Spring Calendar: Blooming Times and Seasonal Events

See the UPDATED 2018 CALENDAR HERE . Updated for 2017 . At this time of year, thoughts turn to spring. Let's spring forward to blooming times, the best locations for witnessing spring's beginnings, and springtime events in the big city. While the occasional snow could blow through the city, we're just weeks now from callery pears in bloom and opening day at the ballpark. In The Ramble, Central Park. mid-April Blooming Times •  Central Park Conservancy's website  lists blooming times within the park. During the month of March we begin to see crocus, daffodils, forsythia, snowdrops, witch-hazel, and hellebores. Species tulips will emerge in several places, but the Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory Garden are particularly good places to catch the beginning of Spring blooms. Central Park near E. 72nd St., saucer magnolia, typically end of March. •  Citywide Blooming Calendar from New York City Department of Parks & Recreation April is u

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City. View of the Hudson River from the Keeper's House The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington. Recommended purchase - a map det