Analogue is defying digital in a retro revival of words, pictures and sounds

Amy Freeborn
Yahoo Contributor Network

We live in an age with awesome and ever-improving technology at our fingertips, giving us capabilities that would have been almost unimaginable to previous generations. Yet there is a growing interest among those of the current generation to covet, collect and reclaim the analogue items of the past.

This movement is driven in part by a desire to take back control from the standardised settings of digital gadgets, but also by an aesthetic appreciation of the items themselves and their output.

Head to East London, and as well as seeing a new shop dedicated to 35mm film photography, you will see a multitude of hip young things with analogue cameras hung around their necks.

A little further down the road you'll find one of the city's most popular independent record stores, full of music fans thumbing through vinyl records.

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But this retro revival isn't exclusive to East London. Head to any cultural hot spot in any modern town or city and you'll see something similar. In fact, you don't even have to leave your house. A quick glance at the social photo blogging website Tumblr will reveal a multitude of online outpourings of love for that which was just recently considered obsolete.

Polaroids are prized, vinyl is venerated, and typewriters worshipped.

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My observations aren't just anecdotal. At the time of writing this article, search trends on eBay (who claim the title of 'world's largest online marketplace') reveal 'vinyl' to be the most popular term in Music category searches, while in the Cameras and Photo category three analogue icons - Leica, Hasselblad and Rolleiflex - feature in the top 10.

Heidi Mace, digital marketing and online manager for Lomography UK and Ireland (proprietors of the aforementioned East London photography store), believes people are drawn to analogue photography because they want to experiment and create something unique.

"There is a quality to film that cannot be replicated digitally, and many people enjoy the process and the ability it gives them to get creative," she says.

"The photographer selects their own unique combination of camera, lens, film, exposure, processing technique and creates a little work of art that is uniquely theirs - it could never be exactly replicated by anyone else."

Florian Kaps, founder of The Impossible Project, which resurrected analogue instant film in 2010 after Polaroid ceased its own production in 2008, offers a similar rationale.

"In our virtual lives things that you can touch, hold in your hands, unpredictable originals gain a new and fascinating value. They become somewhat soothing and endlessly inspiring," he says.

Likewise, a yearning for tangibility and beauty can be attributed to the rise in interest in vinyl, says Spencer Hickman, manager of Rough Trade East (the aforementioned independent record store).

"Vinyl sales have never been stronger," he says, because "people want the physical object. People want to own the record as an art form, and that's how they see it - it is art, not just a piece of music. Buying vinyl is about having something that you can treasure."

But an embrace of analogue does not require a desertion of digital. In fact, it's fair to say that many who buy music on vinyl will also download a copy of the same songs, not only for convenience of portable listening but also because they don't actually own a record player.

Spencer Hickman can attest to that, and editor of music business news service CMU Daily, Andy Malt, agrees: "A proportion of vinyl buyers don't own turntables, but owning physical records acts as a kind of trophy, or a means to display who you are via what you like."

It's not dissimilar to the way those who love Impossible's film products also love the idea of a new gadget called the Instant Lab (complete with a design nod to the bellows of the classic folding Polaroid cameras), which allows iPhone users to print out their digital photographs as Polaroids.

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Another example of the way in which the current generation is repurposing analogue items of the past for use in the digital present is a form of publishing called typecasting.

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So much so is retromania entrenched in current popular culture that an all-day expo dedicated to it is planned for November in London.

The Analogue Conference will welcome music, film, photography, design, art and print buffs and feature a programme of speakers discussing how important and relevant analogue technologies, processes and objects still are to contemporary society.

Organisers state: "It isn't about dissing digital - it's about celebrating everything we love about the non-digital world and perhaps considering ways that digital can help keep some of this stuff current."

Indeed, there's a reciprocal appreciation to be gained from embracing all that our fast-paced digital world has to offer and still taking the time to stop and smell the ink, wind on the film, and listen out for that distinctive crackle on a record. And then sending a tweet telling everyone how good it felt to do so.

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