Nostalgia for the Present, a Review

By Sarah MacKinnon

Please leave a comment, if you’ve ever photographed your 1) Sunday brunch; 2) Sunday lover, or 3) Mama’s Sunday roast chicken. Count the times you’ve been struck by the ironic meta-photographic significance and you’ve snapped a photo of someone taking a photo. Or maybe you did it for the truly magnificent bingo wings that suddenly came into focus? Nostalgia for the Present showcased this socially pervasive compulsion in pop culture to photographically document the everyday, mundane and often, unremarkable occurrences that we all experience. You probably have seen photographs like this before— you probably have them on your iPhone.

A varied collection from 54 photographers—amateurs and professionals, each offered a snapshot from the infinite cinema of their existence. The photographs were taken using point-and-shoot, Polaroid and cellphone cameras, thus enhancing the immediacy and gritty reality of the images.

There were a few common aesthetic themes across this collection. In my personal favorite of several fresh beach scenes: a robust, hairy torso reaches up for a cool drink on a blue-skies-smiling-at-me type of day. Another beauty featured a gent in faded too-big blue jeans, perched on the rocks at Peggy’s Cove checking in vain that his camera had reproduced with suitable accuracy the idyllic moment. There were a few nudes snapped unawares, as well as a great shot of the aisle of a school bus, with pairs of tangled naked legs emerging from every row of seats. Anyone else reminiscing about a grade 12 band trip? Awkward, believable portraiture came across as shockingly candid, such as the despondent blonde photographed in a deer-antlers costume, at what looks like a May Day celebration for seniors. Another portrait features the back and luxurious locks of a Native, wearing a peppy printed shirt, gazing at a 17th century map of North America and possibly pondering the errors of his forefathers. There were fluffy fat cats, frisky dogs, and a cutesy Orca whale, ironically titled “Shame”. These snapshots are presented without apparent relation to each other, and therefore read as single frames of a narrative. The artists’ statement remarks “We begin to live life with a constant awareness of how it will be perceived as having already happened, seeing each moment as a potential photograph.” Although we have the ability to quickly snap photos with our cell-phones, does this hyper-awareness of the potential curb appeal of aesthetic happenings in our life push us to live in a way that is less authentic, and more affected? As I read a handwritten letter in a scruffy coffee shop, I’ve already Instagrammed the unusual stamp against the pitted wooden countertop, which I expect was reclaimed from a reclusive existence to proudly hold only Intelligentsia-filled demi-tasses. Like other forms of social media, this craze can be used to construct an artificial version of ourselves which is so much more hip and lomo-fi-filtered than the real thing.

Blurring the lines between high and low art has worked ever since van Weber spun peasant tunes to snooty urbanites in the German opera house. Cell-phone-brunch-snappers and those of you who have dedicatedly sought out Polaroid film: you are the conceptual Impressionists of the 21st century. In the 19th century it was considered ridiculously bad taste to paint one’s own wife and son out for a drift in the family rowboat, or one’s lover, combing her hair, glowing with PG-13 rosy flesh. Yet against social convention, Monet, Renoir and the rest of those bearded 19th century dandies worked it and today, we have a better understanding of the social and cultural historical currents of the era.

These photographs and types of photographs from this show will serve as a time-capsule of sorts, to preserve the day-to-day details of our era that really make history shine. If our grandchildren are anything like out generation, they won’t care too much about whether the Conservatives or the Liberals were in power—what is fascinating is which café does the best free-pour latte art; who was the cutest bicycle repair-boy, and what sartorial influence was most prevalent on West Queen West in Fall 2011. Our children will want to know what we brought for our picnic lunch, how sexy was the back of the muscular gent sunbathing beside us on Kew Beach, and what a lovely sun-dappled effect was created on his back from the tree shadows.

Now excuse me while I enjoy the rosetta on my cortado.