In our increasingly curated world, there’s a pull toward an aesthetic that feels messy and unexpected.

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It’s an image of an uncanny landscape, recognizably rocky and sandy, but then there’s the pink hills and yellow sky of a place called the Taurus-Littrow Valley. It’s like any other overexposed tourist photo taken by an amateur. But if it came up on your smartphone timeline you’d read “December 1972”. The tourist, a science tourist, is 238,000 miles from home, and he is an astronaut on Apollo 17. Over 40 years later, in a culture of pervasive smartphone and social imagery, the mistake, the ‘fail’, the ‘Glitch’, is the currency of social media.

The coinage of the word ‘Glitch’ itself has been attributed to an astronaut, John Glenn. In 1962 Glenn was looking for a word to describe some technical issues and defined ‘Glitch’, in analogue terms, as a kind of disturbance – “a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical current.” In terms of communications the ‘Glitch’ is a kind of ‘noise’.

In 2014 the ‘Glitch’ aesthetic has become part of everyday social currency through photo-sharing. The smartphone images we take and send each day are often out-of-focus, badly framed, with content that presents everyday life as a series of abstracted forms, communication shortcuts – ‘here is my dinner’; ‘look at my feet’. And if the photo looks a little bit too professional don’t worry, there’s the smartphone software programmed to re-create the visual effect of ‘glitch’ such as lens flare. The ‘fail’ is so desirable we now have systems designed to perfect and simulate ‘glitch’.

At a moment when our lives are supported by systems of technology designed to make work, personal, and social lives smooth and synchronized, there’s a vision of spontaneity and playfulness attached to the image of the ‘Glitch’. Contemporary ‘Glitch’, disturbance, is an unexpected ripple on slick digital surfaces. The operationally smooth digital technology of our age, invisible when it works, is laid bare in ‘Glitch’ photography. The glitched image on a screen gives the sense of something material and tangible an image that is otherwise without physical depth.

 

These are images that are either: genuine accidents; the results of crafted imperfection; or where the image-maker has deliberately introduced some element to the process that makes the outcome unpredictable. Many artists have worked to introduce mistakes, filmmaker Harmony Korine wrote a Mistakist manifesto in 2001, an expression of the idea of art as an experiment with accident. And even if glitch is manufactured, as 19th Century French poet Stephane Mallarmé once said, “A throw of the dice will never abolish chance.”

In a culture where technology and commerce looks to provide ever-increasing customization, personalization, tailoring reality via GPS to our current tastes and immediate needs ‘Glitch’ is a vision of the unexpected. It’s an idea of serendipity, of the creative and experimental disrupting the smooth seductive unfolding of digital life.

Discover images reflecting the Glitch trend