Exploring The Concept of Nostalgia


noun: nostalgia; plural noun: nostalgias

  1. a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.
    “I was overcome with acute nostalgia for my days at university”
    • something done or presented in order to evoke feelings of nostalgia.
      “an evening of TV nostalgia”
fig. word origin accessed via Google 2021, published by Oxford Languages https://ssl.gstatic.com/onebox/dictionary/etymology/en/desktop/20c6a37a211074318db1186d10452fad4d0aa9a1d179fa4794f150a4d9d485b6.png

I’d like to explore the concept of nostalgia, and how the way we experience the past now – through photos and video (and also other means such as sound recordings) – contributes towards the “magic” we associate with it, or even the disassociated experience we have in the present day.

“Loads of us would love to experience the past first hand, but in what capacity do we want to experience it? Do we want to experience it as time travel, as going back and visiting it as though it were a foreign country? Or do we want to experience it as though we were living at the time? Because, obviously, those are very different things… …For us, what we’re living through is so completely mundane, that it never occurs to us that it might be extremely interesting to somebody in the future.” (Roper, 2021)

How has commercial marketing influenced the way we produce and consume photographic imagery?

frame from the end of a Kodak TV advertisement – Eastman Kodak, August 2002

By no means do I deny that the emotional connection between photography and nostalgia existed prior to the mass marketing of camera and film manufacturers in the 1970’s and beyond, but it’s important to question the effect that this style of marketing towards the mass consumer market had on the way we, the consumers, used and thought about photography – at hobbyist, amateur and professional levels.

The “Kodak Moment” became a popular tagline, identifying (and cleverly tethering the household Kodak brand with) the act of taking a photograph as having a nostalgic motive – consciously or not.

YouTube: Simon Roper – How We View The Past (2021)

The Power of Nostalgia

It’s not just in the marketing of photography and consumer goods where the emotion of nostalgia is exploited. Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) 2015 election campaign is a perfect example of just how powerful and influential nostalgia can be.

It’s highly debatable whether America was ever great, and if it was, how so? But the use of this slogan in 2015, regardless, evoked enough emotion and belief from a majority US electorate for Trump to defy the expectations of many and win the presidential election.

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 11: (AFP OUT) Rapper Kanye West speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval office of the White House on October 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Oliver Contreras – Pool/Getty Images)

How do the characteristics of old photography contribute to the experience of nostalgia when looking back?

ie. film, grain, lens flare

Photography as “The Puzzle Pieces”

Memories from early adulthood

Photographs can be kept and used for both nostalgic and documentary purposes. Rewinding back to c2008 as a young adult and undergrad student at university, some of the best times (or at least considered so when these times were the present moment) were those we didn’t remember. Naturally, it was a time of celebration, of freedom and liberation. My friends and I didn’t take photographs for the purpose of reflecting back in decades to come, but almost to “prove” the existence of a good time.

There was always a “designated photographer” in the group on each night out. The word “selfie” was yet to be invented, instead we’d occasionally pass around the camera for group photos as we over-indulged, danced on sticky floors and lost ourselves in the shower of lights and music. It became the task of the “designated photographer” to process the photos from the previous night to piece together what had happened and share with the others, so that we could remember and relive (sometimes with horror!) the events of the night before.

It was a fascinating time to come of age. It was an era in which the birth of social media and mobile 3G internet happened, and as a result, the increased social activity of sharing images digitally within circles. As digital point-and-shoot cameras such as Canon’s Powershot series dropped in price and became more accessible, suddenly, our newly established social media profiles became flooded with albums documenting such adventures.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: