Gap-toothed authenticity

Main Image Detail135368188 / MECKY / Photographer's Choice

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In this second part of our introduction to our Curve report on Telecommunications, we dig deep into the drivers behind the “authenticity” trend and look at some Smartphone Social Sharing of “Street Art” via Samsung.

Cameras versus Cameraphones

Go to the camera finder page on Flickr on any given day and you will find a graph charting the most popular cameras in the Flickr community. And at the top, above various Canons and Nikons is the iPhone (a note on the site does point out that the camera used is only identified 2/3rds of the time, leaving cameraphones under-represented). The fact that the most sophisticated photo-community, and diverse in its mix of professionals and amateurs, is trusting the camera phone over the traditional is historically significant. It is also fuelling a visual tendency in photographic style – the form of the snapshot. On an NBC news program, photographer-icon Annie Liebovitz called the iPhone “the snapshot camera of today.”

Post-Snapshot

The digital snapshot of the new century is a kind of fast photography, improvised, alert to opportunity, more like an experiment than visual documentation, and that’s what is making it so attractive to advertisers and brands. It’s what makes it different from the “Kodak Moment”. Photography as a democratic, widely available art form began with the family portrait and was originally commercialised as the “Kodak Moment” by the company who brought to the consumer market affordable photographic tools. It has become the contemporary shorthand of everyday life with photo-sharing websites such as Facebook and Flickr.

According to Forbes, the phrase “Kodak Moment” has been in use for more than 50 years and on the Kodak site, the “Kodak Moment” is defined as “a rare, one-time moment captured with a photo, or should have been captured by a photo”. But the most important aspect of the “Kodak Moment” passed over in the corporate definition was the fact of its sharing, in family albums, in slideshows, inviting friends round for a show of the holiday photos. Kodak partly went out of business because in the world of digital, image-making isn’t a scarce resource anymore and Kodak became associated with a previous era of photography making and sharing. Digital enables the sharing of hundreds and thousands of photographs every hour. However there is one very readable trend that is a consequence of the ease with which we can make images, manipulate them, and distribute them as easily as exhaling.

 

After Authenticity

Authenticity is a cultural and social value, and an aesthetic style, which we’ve been tracking since our Aspirational Environmentalism report on Green issues in 2005. In truth authenticity is an idea, a premium value that has always been part of the promise of marketing because “mass” culture by definition cannot be bespoke, unique, personal – it is mass-produced. Authenticity is an always-on attribute for brands, with marketers turning the volume up or down according to the prevailing social trends.

Authenticity has also been an important part of the cultural glue of post-World War 2 social values, from Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye famously defining a class of people as “phony” through to the beatniks, hippies, punk and grunge. This has played out in consumer culture through a parallel desire for more authentic regional food, farmers markets, craft culture, accessories that feel “real” such as old wooden covers for new media tablets and stores using simple brown bags. Back in 2009, upmarket fashion site Net-a-Porter began offering consumers the option of receiving deliveries in plain brown paper bags, a clear sign that the age of ostentatious consumption was over and we were in the age of “Ostentatious Authenticity”. This has been central to the appeal of the idea of authenticity for consumers, post-credit crunch. The idea appeals to a sense of getting “back to basics”, to ideas of quality and even ethics in the sense of concern over provenance, whether it is the air miles of our favourite beef or the manufacturing of smartphones.

But how does authenticity play out in the world of image-making and advertising, what are its signals, rules and formula? We’ve tracked it in various guises since 2005 in the phenomenon of “street-casting” models in our own shoots (using “real” people as opposed to professional models), through to the gap-toothed authenticity of the catwalk in 2011 in models such as Lara Stone and Georgia Jagger, whose imperfect orthodonture casting directors envision as a little bit of grit in the world of digitally perfected imagery. These images are much closer to an idea of “every woman”. Democratising the tools of image-making is also subtly shifting the image trends for professional image-makers.

We’ve seen it in the use of images that haven’t been perfectly composed, unusual crops and art directors and designer pushing the authenticity buttons with hand-lettering and brands looking to connect up with street artists. And these are brands beyond the core constituency of (skate/surf/sneakers), such as Samsung who promoted the Galaxy Note with a Facebook campaign in association with street artist, Notasso. This encouraged consumers to interact on the social network site with their photos so they could inspire an original Notasso work. Street art has a cachet of authenticity for a group of younger smartphone users but the Notasso Samsung campaign also plugs into a wider, important message for new technology companies – that they are a catalyst, an engine for personal creativity an idea which taking photographs is at the heart of.

But we think that authenticity as a cultural and status trend is morphing into a wholly different visual trend, driven by the snapshot forms of Flickr and Facebook, and the nostalgia filters of Instagram.

Next section: The Charisma of the Everyday, Playing Dress-Up with Top Shop, and the pop promo and the found image – read now

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