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VSCO brings film back to present

Photo Provided by VCSO
Photo Provided by VCSO

We are a nation of nostalgics. Sentimentalism is a part of Americana, from the raw, earthy tones of gramophones used centuries ago to the (almost) instant gratification of a polaroid photo. It almost seems the farther we progress technologically, the more we long to transcend our own timestamp and swap it for one more, well, glamorous.

Designed originally for photographers to use film-like presets to mass edit their photos in Lightroom, VSCO Cam and Film debuted on April 26, 2012. VSCO, or rather the Visual Supply Co.,  is a business “by creatives for creatives”, as their website boasts.

In April, film package presets for Macs and PCs launched for sale on VSCO’s website, while the AppStore glistened with one more shiny photo editing software app: VSCO Cam 1.2.

This was the dawn of a new era for photographers. Not to say that film had ever gone out of style, but the ease of which VSCO cam made the looks accessible was unfounded. No one had to order rolls of film in bulk on eBay or buy ancient, overpriced 35mm SLRs from Pawn Shops (though I still do). You just needed a computer, or an iPhone, and presto: your photos mock those of a wild adventurer from a different era, one of grain (literally, the presets have noise embedded to mock film ISO), grit, and grace.

And their film presets are just that, perfect emulations of the warmth of Kodak’s Potra or the cool tones of Polaroid 690. They are “for photographers who love the look of film, but shoot digital,” as a 2012 press release reads.

Non-photographers, or photo enthusiasts, hopped on the bandwagon, too. Kylie Jenner of Kardashian fame popularized the mobile app in her grunge-inspired images, and now America’s youth edit their images to look like those of their parents and grandparents.

Yes, while I and other loyal fans of VSCO may have been bitter that 12 year olds now mindlessly slap their selfies onto VSCO for an Instax effect edit and post them to Instagram with the likes of #selfiesunday #polaroid #film #vintage #VSCO, I can’t help but smile at how far this company has progressed in such a short amount of time.

The May following VSCO’s debut, some of my favorite photographers on Flickr who had previously shot film or edited their images in a similar fashion with their own presets, began to team up with VSCO Cam; Instagram was no longer home to the high-contrast cat photo, it became the abode of raw images that seemed fit for commemoration by the likes of Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz.

Co-founder and CCO Greg Lutze defends this revamping of the digital age with gusto. “[VSCO] is not a toy or a gimmick; it is a legitimate photography tool.” And it legitimately has proven to be so, for the past two and a half years.

Those two and a half years saw four (four!) IOS updates, each one comprehensible and featuring minimalist design and more presets available to mobile users. In June of 2013, VSCO Grid was launched –  a platform similar to other photo sharing sites, but most closely resembling Instagram.

Those years also saw the creation of the “VSCO Artist Initiative”, a scholarship fund  of $1,000,000 to “honor art and artist by discovering, funding, advising and promoting creatives from all corners of the globe.”

The Artist Initiative  “is a movement of solidarity, a commonwealth of creatives who value art and those that make it.”

From photographic firemen (Gregg Boydston, ) to Chinese filmmakers (Leon Yan, ) VSCO features the beauty in a sometimes superficial world.

So, we are a nation of nostalgics. And that is a great thing.


About Marianna McMurdock

Self-described as an "ardent archivist", Marianna is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Sun. When she is not despairing over her beloved television characters (Underwood and Holmes represent) she enjoys listening to movie scores, Andrew Bird, and Beyonce. She also serves the Sun as Photo Editor, and has been a self-taught photographer for four years. Her personal work is available at

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