Art school looked like a lot of fun in the 90s

For Matthew Atkatz, the college snapshots he kept in shoeboxes in his closet for years raised a koan-like question: “If they’re sitting ...


For Matthew Atkatz, the college snapshots he kept in shoeboxes in his closet for years raised a koan-like question: “If they’re sitting in a box,” said Mr. Atkatz, 46, “do they have a meaning?”

They do, it seems, when displayed alongside hundreds of forgotten snaps collected from other art students of the grunge years on an Instagram feed called 90s art school.

Since last April, Mr. Atkatz, who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1997, has collected thousands of old snapshots and Polaroids of classmates from that era and breathed new life into these pre-digital artifacts in the era. digital.

What started as a sort of visual class reunion for Mr. Atkatz and a few friends turned into an art project exploring how young artists chronicled their lives and aspirations through photography in an era before the social media. Images have an unconscious quality.

With art students attuned to aesthetics, the flow is a tableau of Gen X fashion signifiers: flannel shirts, black eyeliner, bleached blonde hair, crop tops and baggy jeans. “There were goths and hippies and kids who were into ska or straight edge,” said Mr Atkatz, who now runs a advertising company in Miami with his wife, Liz Marks. “When we went to a show, we were watching the band rather than a screen,” he said. “There were more demarcated tribes in the 90s. In some ways, I feel like social media has homogenized the culture.

The paradox, of course, is that this visual rumination on the pre-Instagram era is only possible thanks to Instagram. “It was as if we had spent a decade of energy on images that no one saw,” Mr. Atkatz said. “I was interested in trying to create joy using this latent energy.”

Although the stream only includes submissions from former RISD students, Mr. Atkatz plans to open it up to 90s students from other art schools, with plans for a gallery exhibition and a book as well.

Even for those who did not attend RISD during those years, however, the stream has anthropological value.

“Young people who go to art school have contacted me and said, ‘Oh, thanks for sharing this – it’s cool to see what art school was like back then’ Mr. Atkatz said, “I think young creatives appreciate it, just because the 90s was a fun time in history. It was a simpler time.

The 90s may have been a simpler time technologically, a fact underscored by the first-generation CRT televisions and Apple Macintosh computers that populate the photos. But those years weren’t much more innocent, if all the photos of students drinking beer and smoking cigarettes are proof of that – not to mention crowd surfing in club shows and half naked wrestling at parties in underground warehouses.

Reviewing thousands of submissions, Atkatz made a point of emphasizing casual low-fidelity shots.

“Instead of images of art or creating stuff in studios, I focused on parties, nightlife and behind-the-scenes photos of what life was like back then,” said- he declared. “They feel a lot more outspoken than how people treat social media today.”

With that in mind, Mr. Atkatz declined requests to tag the people in the 90s Art School photos. It includes only first names, in the captions, and even omits locations, “which”, he said, “allows the photos to speak only of the photos, rather than becoming a promotional platform “.

That’s not to say that the art students of the 90s were naive to the concept of self-marketing. “Young people today are trained to think of themselves as a brand, thanks to social media,” Atkatz said. “Warhol was probably the initiator of it, and we were all influenced by him in the 90s. But I don’t know if the images were such a big part of it.

Even so, RISD students were grounded in the visual arts and trained to develop an eye for subject, color and composition, which carried over into their personal photography, said Whitney Bedford45 years old, painter in Los Angeles graduated in 1998 who has submitted to food. “It was an art school, so more than our cohorts at Brown, we were the ones who had the cameras,” she said. “But there was no self-awareness of today. It was about capturing the rhythm of life, not the pose.

The pose, in fact, was much harder to capture back then, before smartphones, with their filters, cropping features, and lighting effects, allowed people to take a dozen shots of a a single moment before adjusting a single keeper for public display.

Because film and processing were expensive, students often used an inexpensive compact or disposable camera only on special occasions, such as parties, when thoughts of formal composition tended to get lost in a haze of smoke from the lights of Parliament.

“And remember,” Mr. Atkatz said, “you didn’t even know what that damned picture would look like for about two weeks. You were taking 24 pictures and you hoped some of them were good. And then you picked it up and there was a good photo or two, and a bunch of junk.

This explains why so many shots on the stream are underexposed, overexposed, or framed as if the photographer was blindfolded. But that’s the spirit of the company, as well as the times. “This litter,” Mr. Atkatz said, “is the right thing.”



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Newsrust - US Top News: Art school looked like a lot of fun in the 90s
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