Fakeness and Authenticity


I have a love-hate relationship when it comes to the concept of authenticity. In many ways, I’m an orthodox do-it-right, do-it-for-real type who most people would expect to hate any sort of modern fakery. Sometimes I even think of myself this way. But I’m not. I love the concept of fakery and screwing around with the concept that things are not necessarily what they appear to be.

At the same time, quite a few modern fakes and replicas piss me off. Recently, it’s been Instagram’s Nashville filter which has really been getting to me. Inspecting my wife’s replica jersey also set off a couple other rants about “doing things right.” So I’ve started thinking about the right way to make a fake.

As with most things craft, it comes down to a combination of the details and the intent. I have a number of sports jerseys of varying authenticity—ranging from the cheapest fakes you can purchase from a street vendor in Italy to official field-ready merchandise to a specially-crafted throwback. The cheap street-vendor jerseys are, as one would expect, horrible. They aren’t meant to be anything but horrible though. This is their appeal.

As the quality of the jersey rises, so do my expectations of getting the details correct. I don’t expect them to ever be fully identical to what’s worn on the field—fans expect a jersey to last many years, do not need performance fabrics, and are typically not shaped like athletes. I do expect them to otherwise match and have the same patches, badges, lettering, etc. The official MLB replicas fail in this regard in that their lettering is off and they get key details (such as the lack of last names on the backs of the Giants home jerseys) wrong. The result feels more lazy and incompetent than cheap.

And I love throwback jerseys. These are the definition of fakes but since they get the details right (when done correctly) that no one cares that they’re modern versions of old items. I would probably hate them if they were passed off as originals but they’re intended to be new and wearable and their branding celebrates this.


In photography, the fakery discussion is even more interesting. You can fake things digitally in post or you can fake things through using outdated techniques and materials.

Hipstamatic, Instagram, and Poladroid all take modern digital photos and process them to look retro. You can also use various filters to achieve both the color responses and grain of film. Again, whether or not something feels right for me comes down to the details and the intent.

In the case of photography, the details and the intent are often intertwined and much of the fakery involves a fascination with the details rather than the image.* This means that the details have to be even more correct and all to often, the exact opposite occurs because those people fascinated with the details don’t understand what those details actually mean.

*Photography, by being so technology-driven, is prone to getting sidetracked into technical details which have nothing to do with the image.

So we get the kind of fakeness which I can’t stand: Overdone, poorly done details. Fake film borders which all have the same frame number. Black and white film markings for color images. The same fake fingerprint on each fake polaroid. Crazy vignetting and color shifting. Etc. Etc. Etc. Some of it is indeed fun. But the details are getting in the way of the object and that’s a problem when the details are so obviously wrong. The digital fakery I like so far are all images where the filtering has been turned down, the obvious mistakes eliminated, and everything is considered with the subject in mind.

At least with lomography, the details are arrived at through physical means. There’s the same obsession with form over content, but the process is valid. Of more interest to me is how shooting vintage gear (toy cameras from the 1950s, a Speed Graphic, etc.) or using outdated processes (tintypes, albumen prints, etc.) doesn’t offend my sensibilities. With these, the point isn’t to make something that looks old but in fact to see what those must have looked like brand new. And that’s what makes all the vintage gear/process stuff fun and exciting.

We’re in an age of knockoffs, replicas, and pseudo authenticity. Small houses have details which are intended to make them look big. Cheap furniture is detailed so it looks like it’s been made from real wood rather than particle board. And what I find myself being increasingly sensitive to can only be defined as craft. Take care of the details and I’ll forgive the fakeness of it.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

3 thoughts on “Fakeness and Authenticity”

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