With photographer trashhand at our side, we trekked out to VSCO HQ in San Francisco to chop it up with the founders of Visual Supply Co on all things photography, mobility and tech.
Moore’s Law says that technology doubles every two years. Which is to say that things keep getting smaller, faster, better, stronger. Over the past couple of years advances in smartphone technology have essentially allowed for most people to have a camera in their hands nearly all the time. Mix that with readily available Wi-Fi and mobile LTE networks and you have nothing short of a mobile photography boom, with Instagram quickly becoming the go-to social media tool for the connected generation.
To some this abundance of artfully filtered shots of pets, food and coffee may feel like a sign of impending doom, however, if you dig past all the fluff and sugar you’ll find Instagram is also home to a passionate community of brilliant photographers, all creating stunning images with nothing more than their iPhones. Once when you get acquainted with this beautiful world, you’ll find that besides shooting with the latest smartphone, there’s one constant amongst a large number of the best mobile photographers. And that constant is VSCO Cam: a super intuitive, free photo editing app that allows for absolutely stunning imagery. Yes there are other apps other there, but ask anyone who knows and they’ll swear that VSCO is their most powerful weapon.
Please introduce yourselves.
Hello. We are Joel Flory and Greg Lutze, co-founders of VSCO, creators of digital tools for the modern creative. VSCO is a team of 30 designers, photographers, engineers and writers with a love of art and technology. We are unapologetically “by creatives, for creatives.” We launched in November of 2011 and have offices in the Bay Area, the Rocky Mountains and the Big Apple.
Talk about the creation of VSCO—how did things start? What was the original idea behind giving digital images a vintage look?
Greg: VSCO started, continues to be, and will always be a passion project. We love photography, design and art, the creative process and the artists behind it all. We started VSCO to be a company that honors art and artist, and everything else falls into place based on that vision.
Joel and I collaborated on some branding and design projects in our “previous lives”—Joel as a Photographer and myself as an Art Director. We worked well together and held similar beliefs on photography, art, business… Even just life in general. We put a small team together—Mike Wu (CTO), Wayne Wu (Creative Director) and Zach Hodges (Lead Image Processing)—and set out to build things we believed in, basically, tools we wanted to use ourselves.
In many ways, VSCO is a company of contrasts; we aim to marry art with technology, classic film aesthetics with modern tools. VSCO Film and VSCO Cam were born out of a desire to take something we love, analog film, and authentically recreate it digitally for a new generation of creatives, many who have never shot with a film camera before.
Which cameras and films inspired you the most with VSCO?
Joel: I have always been drawn to Kodak Portra 400 & 800. Even before VSCO Film, I would try and emulate that aesthetic with regards to my digital photography. Along with those modern day films, I hold a special place for a lot of consumer films like Kodak Gold and Ektar (what I started out shooting). With regards to cameras, I love the innovation that went into the Polaroid SX-70 and how the Argus made 35mm so accessible to the masses. We have paintings of each of these cameras hanging in our California office.
You clearly have a passion for vintage film. Can you describe the fascination with analog in a digital world? I.e. Listening to music on vinyl, shooting film.
Joel: Even with the rapid rise of technology, humans will always crave tangible, physical things and experiences. We desire to feel, well, human. The act of eating is a perfect example. You can always grab fast food, but you miss out on the experience (and health benefits) if that is all you consume. In contrast, a restaurant that creates an appealing experience that caters to sight, sound, smell and taste is inherently a better, more human experience. The ingredients, the presentation, the process of creating something to be enjoyed with friends… it all factors in the human element. The same can be said for analog and digital. We crave process, nostalgia and experiences simply because that’s how we are wired as humans. The only thing that changes is how that experience is delivered.
Who are some of your favorite photographers of all time?
Greg: As it relates to the “masters,” Gary Winogrand, William Eggleston, Helen Levitt, Stephen Shore, Fred Herzog and Dorothea Lange would make my list. My “next generation” list would include Bryan Schutmaat, Rog Walker, Shane McCauley, Emilie Ristevski, Kevin Russ, Lauren Marek, the Schoonover Brothers, Lawrence Agyei, Jeff Gros, Jared Chambers, M. Wriston, Luca Venter, Nicole Franzen, Tod Seelie and Shane Lavalette. And the list could easily continue…
When did the idea for the VSCO CAM app first come into play? I’m interested in the journey you took to this point.
Joel: The goal for VSCO Cam was to provide a powerful tool to capture and edit images with a simple and clean aesthetic. We wanted to connect with photographers on the mobile platform—to promote a creative community that was largely ignored or overlooked. We never thought it would grow into what it is today, but once we started seeing the amazing imagery created with it, we knew we were onto something bigger than ourselves.
We wanted to push it even further and make the app the standard for mobile photography. We went back to the drawing board and came up with the current version of VSCO Cam and VSCO Grid, our publishing platform for photography.
Which photographers do you feel are most important to the movement?
Greg: The unknown kid with a camera in hand and fire in his heart. The kid who could care less about Instagram follower count. The kid who realizes a camera can amplify his voice and tell powerful stories. The kid who wants to change the world for good, even when everyone tells him art can’t change anything.
Some people have said that VSCO filters should replace the default Instagram filters. How do you feel about that statement?
Greg: I would agree with that statement (laughing). No, but seriously, none of us would be doing VSCO if we didn’t feel our tools were the best on the market.
“The basis for a good image should be more around the composition, the subject, the way the light plays with the shadows, etc. The filter should be complementarian, not the focus.”
Do you imagine there will be a backlash to this current filtered world? To some it seems a prideful moment to declare a photo with #nofilter.
Greg: Ultimately, it is all about the image—not a hashtag or a filter. The basis for a good image should be more around the composition, the subject, the way the light plays with the shadows, etc. The filter should be complementarian, not the focus. Imagine if you went to an art gallery and everyone only commented on how beautiful the frames were, as opposed to the art. The artwork should always be the focal point. That being said, the #nofilter tag seems a somewhat hollow boast. The question should always be, “Is this a great photo because it is?” not “Is this a great photo because I did or didn’t used a filter on it?”
Some have denounced the “end of the DSLR”—relegating it as niche product that will only exist within the most advanced photographic quivers. What are your views on that statement? Where do you think we’ll go from here?
Joel: A camera is merely a tool, and in the end different tools are needed for different jobs. What we are seeing is less the end of the Professional DSLR, and more the end of the basic point and shoot and entry level DSLR. With that said, we are a ways off from the lens on a mobile phone matching the quality of a top-of-the-line Nikkor, Canon or Zeiss lens (not to mention the sensor matching the capabilities of a professional DSLR). In my mind there will always be a place for Professional DSLR’s.
How has the Android version been received? Do you have any opinions on iOS vs Android?
Greg: VSCO Cam for Android has been extremely well-received, especially on a worldwide scale. There will always an iOS vs. Android battle, as many people are very committed to their specific camp. But we strive to create a VSCO experience, not a specific mobile platform experience. A camera is a tool, and while some devices are better than others, it is ultimately the photographer who creates the stunning imagery, not the device or its brand name.
Joel: Building for Android was a difficult challenge. The Android platform is quite fragmented compared to iOS, and the number of devices with subtle nuances to the camera, memory and overall quality is astounding. With iOS, we are building an app optimized for a handful of phones, while Android devices running 4.0+ are literally in the thousands. It is a challenge, but one we felt was important to overcome for the sake of the creative community.
Tell us a bit about the clothing project you worked on. Do you have a strong interest in fashion?
Greg: While we all have varying styles, fashion is an important form of creative self-expression for the VSCO team. Fashion is such a creative outlet and intimately tied into other art forms – photography, music, design, etc.
We were excited to collaborate with Steadbrook, a men’s clothing and accessories company based in Denver, Colorado. It was our first foray into apparel and collaborating with another brand. We learned a lot about the creative process and established some strong relationships with everyone involved.
Talk about the VSCO Grid.
Joel: VSCO Cam is built to play with VSCO Grid, our free publishing platform for photography. Follower numbers, likes and comments are non-existent on VSCO Grid. We are not a popularity contest based on social clout, but a platform that promotes artistry and photography. When you remove social pressure to create, you take away the need to constantly upload or cater your images to what others like. You now have the freedom to show what you deem beautiful.
The strength of VSCO Grid lies in curation, whether by an individual photographer or our curation team who selects images to showcase on the curated VSCO Grid (grid.vsco.co). We live in a digital age where people look but don’t truly see, and everything becomes mindless consumption of content rather than appreciation of the photograph. We try to add value via curation.
How do you see VSCO Grid evolving in the future? To me it feels like the next logical step as the stomping grounds for those tired of Tweens and celebrities clogging the popular page.
Greg: VSCO Grid is to remain a platform that honors art and artist. We aren’t about social clout, we are about craft and community. We want to be at the forefront of the new generation of creatives – one that values original content and the artists behind it.
How would you describe the ideal photograph in the sense of VSCO Grid.
Greg: There is no exact formula, but generally speaking, a photograph that celebrates life for what it truly is, not what we wish it to be. The best images capture moments of simple beauty and brokenness of our world.
Where would you say are the best places in the world to go shoot?
Joel: I have been fortunate to travel quite a bit. Some of my favorite places to photograph are Patagonia, Ireland, Norway and the Eastern Sierras.
Greg: Hong Kong, Paris, NYC and Colorado.
Do you have a favorite VSCO Cam filter?
Greg: A1 and H1
Joel: C1 and N1
Besides VSCO, what are your other favorite apps and pieces of technology?
Greg: My most used apps include Rdio, Twitter, The Verge, My Fitness Pal, Chelsea FC News and Taasky. If I had any extra time at all, I would play Batman Arkham City Lockdown on a iPad Mini. I really enjoy shooting with the Fuji x100S and iPhone 5S. Honestly though, since I spend most of my day sitting in front of technology, I try to avoid it after work and stick to hanging out with family and friends, reading books and hitting the gym.
Joel: My favorite apps are Feedly, Waze, Pandora, Rdio, Twitter, MLB (Go A’s!) and Audible. For technology, I most often use iPhone 5s, MacBook Air and iPad Mini Retina housed in a Côte&Ciel Rhine Flat Backpack.
To enjoy the entire editorial be sure to pick up issue eight of Highsnobiety Magazine at our online store.
- Photography: trashhand