Film School: Nostalgia: Trouble and Opportunity

Jamie Windsor, 'Nostalgia: What to Avoid in Your Photography' Jamie Windsor, 'Nostalgia: What to Avoid in Your Photography'

The right way to reference your past – by making art for the future.

Practising what he preaches, Jamie Windsor‘s video essay uses its nostalgic flourishes to say something new: his discussion of the style and substance of looking back on forward-thinking art, media and culture, is also a beautifully-realised motion design piece.

Looking at the video in those two terms – its substance and its style – reveals a subtly nuanced, thoughtful exploration of its ideas through its words and its visuals.

Substance

What’s the message of Jamie Windsor’s video? Not that nostalgia is in itself inherently bad, but that it should be a means to an end. The primarily focus of this discussion may be photography, but the message applies to a range of art and media.

The Trouble with Nostalgia

  • “Inspiration vs Imitation”: Windsor highlights the irony of looking back on work which is beloved “because it was doing something new”
  • “The trouble with nostalgia is that it’s selective in what it remembers”: our memories are often of a time which didn’t actually exist, from which we conveniently erase elements which have dated poorly, or which dilute or contaminate the “feeling” we use its aesthetics to trigger
Jamie Windsor, 'Nostalgia: What to Avoid in Your Photography'
Jamie Windsor, ‘Nostalgia: What to Avoid in Your Photography’

The Opportunity of Nostalgia

  • “Groundbreaking work from the past was groundbreaking because it broke ground
  • Windsor doesn’t just show works from the past masters from whom he insists on moving on – he also shows “authentic” newer work which “expands [his] understanding of what photography can be”

  • “value is created in things by embracing the new”: Windsor’s praise of Stranger Things isn’t for what it gets “right” about the past, but that it “combines” and “builds” on its nostalgic elements “to create something new”
  • “We’ve already got [the past masters]… We don’t need them again.”

Style

So how does Jamie demonstrate his point visually? Through pastiche, itself a style of incorporating pieces of the past, but then saying something (often literally) with the pieces themselves.

Jamie Windsor, 'Nostalgia: What to Avoid in Your Photography'
Jamie Windsor, ‘Nostalgia: What to Avoid in Your Photography’
  • Jamie illustrates his discussion of the way identity formation is at its most potent during adolescence, with a layered buildup of old 8- and 16-bit graphics is masterful both technically (using modern software) and narratively (making its message timeless)
Jamie Windsor, 'Nostalgia: What to Avoid in Your Photography'
Jamie Windsor, ‘Nostalgia: What to Avoid in Your Photography’
  • The old paper clip assistant from “Windsor95”, which disappears once he finally clicks “Don’t show me this again” – a signifier that has carried through to the software of today, and which signifies the choice to finally move on something (an assistant, a default, a crutch) which we’ll never use again
Jamie Windsor, 'Nostalgia: What to Avoid in Your Photography'
Jamie Windsor, ‘Nostalgia: What to Avoid in Your Photography’
  • Jamie shows us – literally – the use of new technology to approximate the aesthetics of old technology, in ways that say nothing, and then he says something with that
  • Fluid movement from photo, to photo album, to early digital technology, to analog media
  • The entire video’s 4:3 aspect ratio is a subtle, cheeky retro touch

More on Jamie Windsor’s YouTube channel.