Opinion

A DIGITAL REPLAY OF HISTORY: THE OBSESSION WITH GRAYSCALE PHOTO FILTERS AMONG CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL MEDIA POSTERS

Alade your neck is bent’ the only photographer in the village said as he faced the group of high school leavers who had gotten a scholarship to study at the University College, Ibadan, now University of Ibadan. That was the last photograph they had together as a group. The photographer was Afolayan; he was the only photographer in the rural area, somewhere in Ekiti, South West Nigeria.  Alade your neck is bent’ the only photographer in the village said as he faced the group of high school leavers who had gotten a scholarship to study at the University College, Ibadan, now University of Ibadan. That was the last photograph they had together as a group. The photographer was Afolayan; he was the only photographer in the rural area, somewhere in Ekiti, South West Nigeria.

Hey! Before you get lost in this, my concern is neither the group nor the photographer but the uniqueness of the camera of the time. Then, there were no higher definition digital cameras like we have now. Many had nicked named Afolayan ‘gray scale’. That time had passed but then, photography and pictures was a luxury only elitist could afford. Some of those who were fortunate to be loyal to officials of the colonial government in the pre-independence era were given cameras amongst other things as a form of reward for their loyalty.

Gray scale (greyscale) then was the quality of pictures in vogue, hence, was appreciated. I will not bore you with the history of greyscale and photography but I’m sure to mention some things which will aid this short paper. The digital camera has come a long way, the same way photography has. Cnet.com mentioned that the camera generally recognized as the first digital still snapper was a prototype (US patent 4, 131, 919) developed by Eastman Kodak engineer Steven Sasson in 1975. He cobbled together some Motorola parts with a Kodak movie-camera lens and some newly invented Fairchild CCD electronic sensors. The photographs that came out of this were mostly in black and white (gray scale). However, there was a rapid shape-shift in the latter part of the 20th century as the influx of digital cameras became really tremendous. Following this or consequential with this was the popularity of the web which gained ground in that same period with the www.

Social networking had provided an avenue for groups to come together virtually while maintaining newer identities or creating newer ones. In such digital communities/folk groups, there were needs to fill up profile pictures (avatars) as well as upload pictures seamlessly. These upload first appeared in coloured forms which proved modernity to truly be modern. However, the emergent 21st century had changed the entire story. There is a case of digital replay of history among the contemporary social media posters with the quest for Grayscale. The history replayed is that of the early era when pictures were supposedly in ‘black’ and ‘white’. Some critics, like I read in an article and review online had blamed this retrogressive shift on the social media platforms e.g. Instagram and Facebook particularly which make available filters for turning pictures to gray scale textures.

Yet, many youths seems to be satisfied with gray scale for one reason or the other; one, the desire to remain indigenous or two, a case of retelling history. Really, it has been hard to differentiate between historical pictures and contemporary pictures as they are all wrapped up in the same feature. There may be aproblem for the next generation to gather research materials as there may be a problem having to differenciate between their parent’s past and of their great grand parents.

And that take us back to our story, Afolayan’s grand daughter is one of those who supposedly found interest in the choice of gray scale over normal filters. Would her granny be happy? Well, you should know, I’m almost a victim, my last uploaded picture was in gray scale.


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