A few weeks ago I watched a documentary featuring some evocative, grainy footage of the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s. The images were appropriately subdued, melancholy, at times sinister, the mood emphasised by the poor - by contemporary standards - quality of the film.
Since then I'm afraid I've been looking at our own urban and rural landscapes through the lens of that documentary: Britain's consistently atrocious weather applies a desaturation filter with film grain and vignette effects over everything. Fields viewed from a rain spattered bus window appear as Ukrainian agricultural collectives, distant lines of trees shrouded in the mist evoke a memory of some Siberian forest, and decaying modernist architecture in the cities loom like Soviet reeducation facilities.
During idle moments I've been documenting the gloom with my phone's camera, using filters and effects supplied by some quite remarkable photo apps to apply that extra coating of Cold War cheer to the images.
The best known filter app is of course Instagram, the merits of which I discussed in an earlier post, which, especially if you apply its filters multiple times, can yield very nice effects.
But for true Siberian gloom one needs to turn to the excellent Retro Camera and Vignette apps. I'm using Android - I don't know if they're available for iPhone for which I'm sure there are equivalents.
Retro Camera does a pretty good job - to my rather untrained eye - of imitating the lo-fi effect of Soviet-era cameras such as the LOMO-135BC and LOMO-135M, which produce over-saturated images with encroaching vignette borders. The cameras include The Bärbl, the Little Orange Box and the Pinhole Camera, all of which emerged from or were used widely in Russia and Eastern Europe after the war.
While it can produce some striking effects Retro Camera is a rather temperamental beast: you can't import images into it, or apply more than a single filter. You just have to point and click and hope for the best. Vignette is a more powerful, flexible app which comes with a range of preset filters, rather like Instagram. But its filters can be customised, mixed and matched, overlaid, and different frame effects can be applied. It also allows the import of pictures taken with any other app, or even another camera. I've used it exhaustively lately, applying vignette, desaturation, neutral density, Polaroid, instant, film grain, pinhole and toy camera effects. Hours of fun (for me) and I've been able to use some of its effects for client projects. It is certainly possible to do everything that Vignette can do in Photoshop, but sometimes you just don't want to reinvent the wheel.
Here are a few images taken in the Borders and Edinburgh (and one or two from a recent trip to London) which seek to capture the magic of those Soviet days: