What do Pictures of Visual Literacy & Digital Fluency Look Like?

Vimpt. photo courtesy of Craig Austin

What do Pictures of Visual Literacy & Digital Fluency Look Like? Hint: they’re FREE.

Vimpt. is an innovative project that is making handcrafted, old-school prints from smartphone photos — for free. Who does that these days? Mark L Chaves takes a look at Craig Austin, the pioneer behind Vimpt, to find out why.

“Digital fluency is a conversation and photography is a language.”

When was the last time you held an actual photograph? I know what you’re thinking. This does not include holding your smartphone while there is a picture on the screen. Approximately six billion people use a mobile phone. Two billion of us use a smartphone. The first commercial digital cameras hit the market in 1994. The first camera phone came out in 2000. Even during film photography’s heyday, buying/developing/printing was cost prohibitive. Chances are many of us have never touched a printed photograph.

Vimpt. is a UK-based project that may change all that. This initiative is making prints more accessible by giving them away for free. All you have to do is share your image on Instagram using hashtag #vimptfreeprint. If your photo is selected, you get your very own print in the mail.

The project went live in November 2015 and has already had over 1.6K submissions from across four continents. The name, Vimpt, is short for ‘very important’. It was created by photo guru and darkroom geek, Craig Austin. Austin, originally from Coventry, spent twenty years in London working in photography. He is now in the Cotswolds where he runs darkroom workshops and continues to lecture at universities.

“Photography has always been an economic privilege. Vimpt challenges this paradigm by being free”, Austin explains.

Vimpt developed out of Austin’s involvement with a free online photography course called Phonar Nation. Phonar is short for photography and narrative. Phonar Nation is the brainchild of award-winning British photographer, Jonathan Worth.

“In a nutshell, the goal for Phonar Nation is to give free access to information. Especially to people who normally wouldn’t have access”, says Austin. Phonar Nation was picked-up by the Cities of Learning initiative in the US. Phonar Nation was the largest youth photography class in history when it began in summer of 2014.

“I want to show the connections that photography is so good at tapping into: history, chemistry, art and culture.”

As part of Phonarnation, Austin made Victorian salt prints from the smartphone images that students submitted. The prints were given freely to the students along with how-to guides of the darkroom process. “I want to show the connections that photography is so good at tapping into: history, chemistry, art and culture. This part of the project was a way of helping them to make links between the digital and the material as part of an overall programme of visual literacy and digital fluency”, he says.

Vimpt is now taking on Instagram. “Bringing Vimpt outside of an institutional and economic framework is taking accessibility up a few notches. Vimpt is all about access and connection and learning”, says Austin. “I am blown away by the amazing images and the people who share them on Instagram,” admits Austin.

“It’s more about starting the conversation than about that perfect image.”

Like any craft there can be an element of intimidation. Self-doubt such as, “Is my picture any good or would anyone like my photo?”, can be a barrier to sharing. However, Austin is the embodiment of the photography. His view on photography is reminiscent of the late, legendary yet unassuming, Henri Cartier-Bresson. “It’s more about starting the conversation than about that perfect image,” says Austin. He continues, “Digital fluency is a conversation and photography is a language. Photographs tell stories. They are a window to a deeper connection. Especially with kids. Sharing your photograph can be a global conversation. Not limited to one classroom. This means kids learn to be aware how they fit into all of this”.

“Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.” –Henri Cartier-Bresson

I worked in the software ‘construction’ business for 20 years. The most insidious thing for me back then was I couldn’t touch what I built. Vimpt gives back something you can feel between your fingers — something you can put in frame to display it for everyone to see and touch. Vimpt takes that digital capture of what your mind’s eye saw as you clicked the button. It hands back your masterpiece in return.

“The reward is making prints for people who would not usually see their images printed — let alone printed using traditional and alternative darkroom methods”, Austin says.

How to get Vimpted

1. Follow @darkroom_craig on Instagram or @DarkroomCraig on Twitter.

2. Upload your picture.

3. Add hashtags #vimptfreeprint followed by your choice of: #blackandwhite or #saltprint or #cyanotype.

Links

Vimpt website: http://www.vimpt.com

Vimpt. on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/darkroom_craig

Vimpt. on Twitter: https://twitter.com/darkroom_craig

Phonar Nation: https://phonarnation.org/

Craig Austin FRSA, founder of Vimpt.
Salt print — IG photographer @geodesiq
Salt print — IG photographer @guoitatu
Salt print — IG photographer @james__cannon
Salt print — IG photographer @photo_brett
Black & white print — IG photographer @photo_brett
Black & white print — IG photographer @serpiaka