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Neon Cities - Instagram's Favourite Aesthetic

Words:

Edd Norval

Photos:

(All featured in article)
November 25, 2019

Instagram has a lot of trends; beautiful doorways, Soviet architecture and shots of impossible natural beauty. Yet, it's not in the perfect or the pretty, the artfully bleak or the seductive beaches that people gravitate towards. In a primal, almost kneejerk reaction to unforgiving contemporary cityscapes, the aesthetic of 'Blade Runner' type neon streets have become the photography platform's latest love affair.

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Putting an origin on it would be nearly impossible, as well as to miss the point. Such trends have the propensity to pop up out of nowhere, reaching 'viral' status very quickly. However, we can see certain cultural points that predate its emergence on Instagram that were indicative of our desire for these warm, inviting and idealistic conditions.


Firstly, although similar films have existed - there is Blade Runner, the iconic 1982 science fiction film depiction a society where artificially intelligent beings live amongst humans and as such, the environment reflects this technologically advanced age in a way that captured the attention of audiences the world over.


Another critical moment in the emergence of its popularity, particularly in a more contemporary sense, was the overwhelming success of Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, starring Ryan Gosling as the stunt driver by day, getaway driver by night lead. It also featured a soundtrack and polished and glossy Miami palette that was as neon as could be. The follow-up film from the Danish director was the divisively cult Only God Forgives, a film that pushed the visual language even further, dousing an entire film in the hum and light of backlit Bangkok.

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Its futuristic appeal, particularly in the prominent posters fascination with Tokyo (easily the most popular destination on these accounts), hints at the kind of world we long for. Incidentally, it's as far away from the nature revivalism that also thrives on the photography platform. In the same way as vapourwave revived old internet stylings, yet added an element of futurism, so too has the neon glow cityscapes that are quickly gaining popularity.


Their longing is evident, but not desperate. What would normally be reserved for times-gone-by, we feel towards what is yet to come. Alienation and isolation are key factors in modern society and pervasive in the lives of major city's vast populations. No such worry permeates these images though. Granted, the streets seem to invite a sense of melancholic solo exploration - it's the warmth of the glow that is the main seducer. There's all the appeal of anonymous solitude without any of the reality.


Dreamlike, hazy and floating, the music of vapourwave - although not directly overlapping with the Blade Runner aesthetic - resonates with the sentiment of time standing still, of thoughts being introspective and contemplative. It is, in other words, a spiritual companion. They idolise a world that's easy to get lost in, where anonymity and convenience define the life it seems possible to lead. And like the most significant subcultures and movements, offer us a way of understanding the world we live in.

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One of the most popular accounts Blade Runner Real World, posts shots that look like they truly come from a more advanced timeline and like photographer Teemu Jarvinen, capture the philosophical and sociological elements of the cyberpunk genre that has shown its crossover appeal from niche graphic novels and comics to hugely successful films and computer games.


Alongside TOKYOLUV and a host of other accounts, whose visual language all encompass and exist in the same universe - although each has their own way of doing so - we see a trend of photographers infatuated with a world that understands reality in a way that merges happiness with sadness, togetherness with ambivalence and the old with the new in a way usually reserved for fantasy. This is Blade Runner come true.

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