The appeal of lo-fi in contemporary media is quite clear and tangible.
Which comes out almost as a contradiction, since clarity is the very thing that is mostly lacking from the lo-fi artwork, by its very definition.
And yet, the lack of pursuit of clarity, of the detail, allows one to concentrate on things that are much more conductive of the perception of the mood, the feeling, the thought behind the artwork, or anyway that they aim to capture or convey.
In a sense, lo-fi art is the art current of nostalgia and memories. Much like a memory of something, somewhere, some time, or someone we can’t quite place, and yet still somehow remember, or at least think we do, so lo-fi art presents us with a melancholy feeling of nostalgia, like a glimpse through fuzzy memories, still very much alive in the back of our head; that one lonely visit to the ferris wheel by the sea; the rain outside while reading a book, or writing your diary after school. Or maybe it’s just lounge music that encourages contemplation via a coffee mug.
Lo-fi in photography is easily conglomerated into the whole Lomo movement – and yet it’s quite distinct, although reminiscent as it may be. But while Lomo still has some perverted concept of minding the technical side of it, lo-fi by idea has a blatant disregard of all that. The somewhat gritty aesthetics remain, but more as a mean to convey a possibly meaningless slice of life, otherwise of no importance, and presenting it to us as a celebration of the mundane, the unnoticeable, the visible background noise of our remembrance.
It is then even more so ironic that film is the preferred media for the lo-fi photographer; but, whereas the normal film photographer will chase film as a more thoughtful and technical media, with each frame being a cost in and of itself, and the obvious technical limitations to be rewarded with an arguably better looking result, more refined even, for the experienced photographer, the lo-fi artist interprets the media as a detachment from the image. The cost of the film makes it so that the photos are still somewhat thought about, sure; but, where the more deliberate film photographer obsesses over the technical aspect, and works meticulously for the best possible result, the lo-fi artist will mostly chase old equipment, or more commonly even disposable cameras. No preview, and no control over the process, means, that they will only have to decide that it feels right to take the shots. No further attachment.
We are then treated to a result that feels real like a family album, but has been shot with the concrete idea of conveying the fuzziness of thought and memories, of the tiniest aspects of daily life, from the point of view of some hipster with a disposable camera.
The whole “hipster” stigma when it comes to what admittedly is a more low effort type of current (one among many), is itself kind of lazy. It’s normally brought forward by those who criticize modern art by saying “I could’ve done that”, to which the only possible, equally sterile counter argument becomes “yes, but you didn’t”.
Truth be told, everybody has, at some point, made some lo-fi art. The main difference, same as any mass media bent into Art, is how deliberate the act was, and the objective quality of what is presented, alongside the thought it spurs from.
Deep below, lo-fi is probably a cry for help. It’s a desperate attempt to cling to the very basic emotional aspects of the human experience. It uses nostalgia as a mean to empathize with a more forgiving, carefree time in our lives, going away from the gritty contemporary reality.
It’s the aesthetic opposite of cynicism. Mellow in every aspect.
And yet, cynicism pervades every aspect of daily life for the best part of the younger nostalgic generation, insofar as we define cynicism with a general sense of disenchantment and disenfranchisement, detachment from the necessary evil of the daily grind – not quite nihilism, but definitely a touch pessimistic.
Lo-fi art becomes then a melancholy retreat for the mind, balancing on the thin line between the therapeutic and downright depressing – everything but facing the stark, precise, unforgiving concrete reality of the seemingly meaningless routine.
It serves very much as a background mood for intellectual exercise. ChilledCow’s YouTube radio stream lofi hip hop – beats to study/relax to has become kind of a underground cultural staple. I like to think that hip hop, specifically, found a sweetspot, having evolved from an expression of the street culture, rising to prominence initially as a mean for the rage of the unprivileged (think NWA. And I know I’m oversimplifying), to now becoming a more nuanced genre, functioning as an outlet for more complex, or personal states of mind. A group cultural outlet for personal feelings. And as these feelings being expressed become more personal, and more introspective and thoughtful, so has the sound of the music changed to embrace the influence of jazz, with its complexity, yes, but also its chill, its mellow.
In a sense, it’s kind of a rebellion, as my friend Richard Anthony Morris, photographer and writer, points out: “to the perfect nature that digital naturally strives for. Digital, not just photography, digital everything is always striving for perfection”.
“And I sometimes see lo-fi as the mind naturally pushing away from this. Allowing mistakes and failure, because that’s what is human”.
Although, I’d point out, by its very nature, it’s a very quiet rebellion. More akin to an immune response, maybe.
“As quiet as manufactured static on a lofi track. Yeah”.