back to the future
Is there a name for these images? These then-and-now diptychs in which people arrange themselves into the gestures, dress, and attitudes of their former selves, many decades removed? Argentinian photographer Irina Werning’s Back to the Future series was not the first, but it is certainly one of the best. And we love to love these sorts of temporal juxtapositions that, like time-lapse, do something magical. They show us the passage of time in an instant: the loss of collagen and hair; the growth of bellies and muscles and wrinkles; the resiliance of childhood twinkles and toothy grins. Even as people change and age, the backgrounds stay the same, or are very carefully staged to appear so.
In addition to the visual gag—an oversized toddler; the Méliès-style POOF! special effects—these photos display a certain studied nostalgia. Nathan Jurgenson has brilliantly theorised these kinds of «faux vintage photos»—the hipstamaticised, the instagrammed, the lomographied, the variously filtered—as a kind of grasping for authenticity in the age of mass social mediation; a reimbuing of the Benjaminian aura. Death or glory in Afghanistan? It all looks the same in hipstamatic.
Yet there’s something slightly different at play here. There’s a direct nostalgia for the warm, vignetted-and-sunbeamed glow of childhood, and of easier, happier times shot through with possibility. Perhaps the pint-sized strongman in a captain’s hat did grow up to sail the seas, and perhaps the would-be ballerina grew up to slave at a 9-5 (and her feet still hurt as much.) But there’s also a nostalgia for place—spaces of memory that, like their inhabitants, age, disappear, and deteriorate. Sometimes even for the better, as evinced by the spraypainting a wall that is no longer there.
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