Lens flare: The magical mistake. It happens when shooting film through a lens pointed into a light source causing an optical defect –rings or circles of light – that obscures part of the image. If you can’t come by it organically, most photo editing software can artificially produce the effect. And that software is being used a lot these days in television shows (Saving Hope, Dr. Who), television commercials (Honda Insight), movies (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek), video games (Effect 3, Syndicate, Battlefield 3), and most recently in our new, “This is Sears” advertising campaign. Apparently, the present’s so bright, we gotta wear shades – but why?
In the late 1960s and early 70s, the first significantly cheap cameras were manufactured and made available to the great unwashed – like your fat old uncle Charlie, for example. In the past, professional photographers worked hard to ensure that lens flare didn’t happen. Flare on a photo meant the photographer was an amateur who didn’t know what he was doing, so for the most part, the only photos with lens flare were made by fat old uncle Charlie with his new Kodak Pocket Instamatic. Suddenly there were heaps of amateurs, and heaps of lens flared photos. For example, the Lankin family photo album contains several photos of what look to be our friends and relatives disembarking a spaceship at Devils Tower to embrace Richard Dreyfuss.* So lens manufacturers started making coated lenses that would prevent lens flare, and soon fat old uncle Charlie was the Midwest’s answer to Ansel Adams. Time marched on; we grew older.
Enter the reminiscence bump.
Psychologists have studied a phenomenon they call the “reminiscence bump.” Starting around the age of 30, people begin to remember their youth with a great fondness. Our ability to remember our past generates strong random images and emotions, as well as clear and specific memories. Your ability to remember memories from that time period literally gets a little boost, or “bump,” and you begin to experience the phenomenon of nostalgia.
In the 17th century, nostalgia was considered a physical disease, a sort of leprosy of the brain. And the physicians of the day couldn’t decide if it was caused by very tiny demons squeezing bits of the ol’ gray matter, or brain damage caused by listening to cowbells for too long.
But nostalgia’s not what it used to be (cough), and today studies show that nostalgia has psychological benefits; it makes us happy and improves our state of mind. Researchers from Loyola University report that thinking of good memories for 20 minutes a day can make people happier than they were the week before, and that thinking about the past makes people feel better than when they are thinking about their present lives.
Even people with lousy childhoods may look back on these years with at least some affection. Studies show that our brains work to clarify happy events and dim sad ones in our memory. And if it can’t dim the sad events, it helps us view them as little stories of triumph and redemption, turning our personal negatives into personal positives. For example, a beleaguered future UXA from an impoverished background conquered the back-breaking newspaper distribution industry and made enough money for a pair of green, grapefruit-sized puff balls – each with its own jingle bell – for her white leather roller-skates and went on to become “The Queen of Roller Bootin’.”
If you love some artifact from your past – a book, movie, song, or toy – chances are good that you loved that period of your life. You’re not watching Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo for the eighteenth time because it’s a great movie, you’re watching it because it reminds you of a time when you were relatively happy. You can’t easily separate the quality of the movie from the time you first saw it. Even the crappiest artifacts from your past are made great simply because they were around when you were a kid. When we attach importance to things from our past, we’re telling ourselves that our own lives are important.
As it turns out, anything from the past can bring on nostalgia. A song you hated growing up that triggers no specific memories for you can induce feelings of nostalgia, because the song you hated was part of an ongoing “life soundtrack” of songs that included other songs you loved. You actually wasted your time listening to the hated song. But no one wants to think they’ve wasted their time, so our brains turn, “wasted time” into, “invested time” and the hated song becomes meaningful in its own way.
Most people like recalling things that happened during their lifetime. It makes them happy. So fat old uncle Charlie’s lens flared photographs – and photographs made to look like them – can trigger happiness if you’re over a certain age even if they’re not photographs of things specifically from your childhood. The majority of our customers have reached their reminiscence bump, so using this retro photo technique in our advertising should trigger memories of positive events that shaped who they are now. Will they connect that happiness with Sears? We don’t know what the future holds; we’ve only got the past – and the time and effort we invested in simply existing.
*Do yourself a favor and watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s full of flare.