The recent couple of years saw a massive increase in alternative place photography Instagrams. The app started with square, oversaturated, filtered photographs. Then we got the polished photographs, more subtly filtered (thanks vsco) but still severely detached from things looked like in reality. Now we’re blessed with crude authenticity, all ordered with appropriate hashtags, that shows us everything in between the idealised spots from travel grams and tourist brochures. We get seafood store fronts, forgotten communist street sculptures, abandoned holiday resorts. Signage, mosaics, fences and gates, and all sorts of other elements of built environment that are in some way uncanny, outdated, or spectral.
It’s not just a shift in aesthetics, though. It’s a hallmark of the special role Instagram has taken in the media. Insta serves not only our vain attempts to promote ourselves or our brands, or document our daily lives. It’s a platform for connecting like-minded individuals, here: the explorers of hauntology, the spotters of the unordinariness of ordinary things. And it has surely helped take shape many a research project.
The first hashtag I’ll talk about is #duchologia. The prime domain of Olga Drenda (@ducholozka), the author of Duchologia polska. Rzeczy i ludzie w czasach transformacji [Polish hauntology. Things and people in the times of transformation] (Karakter, 2016). But it seems to have been since taken up by many others, predominantly Polish men between the ages of 20 and 40. Each ugly storefront becomes an opportunity for an Instagram photo. If it displays a particularly inventive typeset (composed of self-adhesive vinyl), it receives the hashtags #typopolo, #typehunter or #typespotting.
On the other hand, we also get specialisations. If you’re particularly ardent about fishing, you’d likely tune into the hashtags #szczupakcore. A man named Ross (not really, @podpis_nieczytelny) goes around taking pictures of fishing equipment shops and local offices of the Polish Fishing Association [Polski Związek Wędkarski]. One account (@sklepyrybne) focuses exclusively on seafood stores. There are also large numbers of bus and train station aficionados, using respectively the hashtags #pkscore and #pkpcore, and those who’ve taken to abandoned holiday resorts and cabins – check #ostatniturnus and #osrodekwypoczynkowy.
This is not simply urbex – it’s urbex for the intellectuals. #duchologia began as a strictly academic project, exploring the Polish culture and its material expression of the ambivalent period of late ’80s and ’90s. It may seem obvious that since the photographs are in themselves quite ugly (I mean, decaying furniture and peeling paint are not typically the definition of beautiful), they must have a value beyond their aesthetic quality. That value being: their contribution to research on the material culture of the Transformation. We have e.g. the discoveries on the Diogenes holiday cottage, an innovative design of the 1970s, by @susy_z_doliny_muminkow and @maciejdusiciel. They document actual cultural heritage.
Actually, the photos are actually quite charming. With the postmodern tastes of the 2020s, really, anything goes. Somebody has to listen to vaporwave; my best guess would be that the people who do would also take warmly to the #pkscore aesthetic. But as you roam these decadent regions of Instagram, you can’t rid of feeling like they’re somehow above you. See this ugly peeling storefront that you walk past indifferently? You don’t see what’s behind it. I see it. Your seeing is too narrow… and you surely have not read about Derrida’s hauntology.
Perhaps to fully understand them, we should go and read on Derrida’s hauntology. But if you don’t want to, you can still take delight in the decomposing architecture of the 1970s and shabby, peeling vinyl stickers. And look around you closely next time you take a bus or a train – the hidden charm of the long outdated design of the station might just sway you.
Hashtags and accounts that inspired this post (thanks be to):
#duchologia #newtopographics #typography #postsoviet #typehunter #typespotting #duchoszyld #reliktyprl #pkscore #pkpcore #szczupakcore #duchologiapolska
@ducholozka, @maciejdusiciel, @podpis_nieczytelny, @susy_z_doliny_muminkow, @szumyzlepy, @kratki_furtki_plotki, @sklepyrybne, @prspctiv_, @cosmoderna, and many other.