Last week, photo-printing company Artifact Uprising held an instagram contest seeking shots of nostalgic Americana. There were surprisingly few guidelines – contestants could submit one photo per calendar day over four days by simply tagging their photos #AUamericana. Then anyone could browse the hashtag to see what people came up with, and then the powers that be would select three shots to display through the Independence Day weekend. Winners would get a $150 gift certificate to shop at Artifact Uprising. Since I used the company to make my honeymoon photo book and loved loved loved the results (really, it’s a truly fantastic company), I had to enter (in spite of the odds – I’m no photographer).
But besides the prize money, there was a lot to love about this contest.
They left the theme open to interpretation. They even asked to be surprised. This made browsing the hashtag really fun, both because of the incredible variety in what “Americana” means to different people, but also because of the surprising overlap. Even across very distinct images and subjects there was an emergent aesthetic that was difficult to quantity – and maybe I was projecting, but that’s interesting in and of itself.
There were a lot of classic images – old cars, burgers, landscapes, flags, etc – but there were also some surprises that really stood out. One of my favorites was a dusty pair of old work boots in front of a wheat field. They seemed at once both abandoned and at the ready, as if even in their neglect they kept hoping that someone would step into them and get to work at any moment. It felt very dustbowl, and showed a less glossy vision of the Americana aesthetic. And yet it fit perfectly.
The general idea is that an aesthetic is a story, and it can be as cohesive and dynamic as a narrative, while also speaking more directly to your emotions. It’s a broader and less precise in its effect, but because of its dissipated approach, it has a greater chance of touching on some kind of internal truth.
I didn’t win, but I had a lot of fun playing with the idea. Here are some of my submissions, and also some of my rejected attempts.
I hope you had a great holiday weekend! If you have instagram, I highly recommend browsing #AUamericana to see what people came up with.