I resisted Instagram for a long time, preferring the unpredictability of real, expired disposable cameras. Eventually, I broke down—and it’s gotten too forget all that was lost in the process. My photos are predictable, lacking the light leaks and plasticized blur of a crappy analog camera. There’s no longer anything unique about what I photograph than what I actually photograph.
Given all that, I’m not exactly sure how to take InstaCRT. It’s a $2 iPhone app that adds a retro look to your photos. But unlike Instagram’s faux analog filters, this alteration occurs in the real world. When you take a photo in InstaCRT, you send it halfway across the globe to a tiny, 1" CRT screen somewhere in Sweden. A DSLR snags a photo of the screen and sends it back to you.
InstaCRT is built on 80s electronics that might blow up and make the app useless.
Am I being parodied or enabled? I’m not really sure. But in chatting to one of InstaCRT’s creators, Martin Ström, he doesn’t seem so worried about interpretation. He admits that the idea is "a tiny bit silly, and quite amazing at the same time. A trip around the world in 25 seconds, really." The project began with "the fascination of old school technology," Ström tells Co.Design. "We don’t idealise the past, but we’re all very curious to see what happens when you mix old and new stuff. The growing irritation of the digital faux filters out there was obviously also a source of inspiration."
So Ström and friends built InstaCRT as a hack, a sort of proof of ridiculous concept. After operating their retro, networked camera rig for several months, their "app" seemed stable enough to release to the masses, but their site still offers the earnest disclaimer: "The concept of InstaCRT is built on 80s electronics that might blow up and make the app useless. We don’t have any spare parts laying around which means there’s no guarantee the app will work."
Some of InstaCRT’s reviews in the App Store complain of long wait times, and that’s almost to be expected. Their process for each photo takes about 20 seconds. They have one camera and one CRT. If ten people request a photo at the same time, the wait will be a few minutes. If one hundred people request a photo at the same time…well! (That said, I got my test photo back in 20 seconds this morning.) And already, I’m planning at least a week long binge of inserting InstaCRT photos into my Instagram feed—something I’m already a bit self-conscious to admit, but geekily unable to resist.
Ström isn’t so surprised. "In the end we all want something real," he writes. "‘No filter’ is already a response to the digital faux filters. The real world filter, InstaCRT, is a natural next step."
Whereas Instagram made the everyday person appreciate toy camera photography, InstaCRT has me captivated by the digital. For the first time in a long time, I considered the fact that a photo I’d taken on my camera had been sent thousands of miles to a server somewhere to be handled by a robotic queue. I burst in the bedroom to show my wife "this was photographed on a monitor in Sweden! With a camera!" For a moment, it’s hard to believe that this same idea is happening with everything I do online every day. But, you know, there aren’t a million tiny CRTs at Google tracking my every move…or are there?