If you’ve been Vimpted, you know the feeling of holding a precious print in your hand, of experiencing this kind act from a fellow Instagrammer, a stranger. And if you haven’t been Vimpted yet, you’d sure love to be. Vimpt is a beautiful proof that art connects and that collaboration creates something unique.
The man behind Vimpt is Craig Austin from the UK. Every week Craig chooses nine Instagram images submitted to #vimptfreeprint, turns them into fine art prints in his dark room and sends them to the photographers. He does this all for free.
Not just thumbnails
Vimpt equals Very Important. “The name signals the importance of the images people are submitting and the importance of the print, that we should not forget the role of materiality within the digital.” Craig wants us to look at the images as physical objects and not just as thumbnails on our phones.
The idea for the project came after Craig taught Alternative Processes at the University of Westminster and collaborated with Jonathan Worth on Phonar Nation. Phonar Nation was a free online photography class, open to anyone in the world and run as a part of the Cities of Learning Initiative in the US. Craig produced free salt prints from smartphone pictures for the students to connect them to the historical, cultural and material contexts that are so often removed from the digital world.
The success of Phonar Nation led Craig to drop the same process into Instagram. He started the Vimpt account in November 2015 and has so far sent out 400 free prints. The project is growing fast; people from all over the world have submitted almost 20,000 images to Vimpt’s hastag.
“I have become part of a vast, engaged and creative photographic community that I didn’t know existed! The communities and individuals I’ve met through Vimpt are incredibly knowledgeable, driven, generous and gifted. I’m excited about where the project is going.”
Old school meets new technology
Craig uses historic processes such as Salt Print and Cyanotype, and combines them with digital technology and handmade paper to produce fine art interpretation of chosen images. “I use the title Alternative Processes for what I do as it helps to describe and give a broad context to this hybrid approach. The term itself is a subject of considerable debate, and there are a lot of different opinions about its meaning and what it covers.”
What interests Craig is how modern technology has made the historic processes more accessible. “A love of the physical print produced by these wonderful old processes and an excitement about how digital technology and social media are reinventing the cultural meaning of photography is one of the reasons I started Vimpt.”
What makes a good image
“There are a couple of things I look for when choosing an image”, Craig explains. If the image relies on a particular colour or if the image’s narrative is about colour, it won’t work as a monotone print. “It can become flat.” The same goes with images that are overly complicated or overworked with apps. “What a salt print adds can become a little lost.”
Craig looks for sharpness and details. “If it’s not sharp but looks like it should be sharp, or if the shot is a portrait and the face is in shadows without enough details, then it won’t work well as a monotone print.”
Yet there are exceptions. “Some images do fall outside this rough guide, and I know they will be difficult to print, but I do them anyway as they are such great shots.”
Craig tries to vary the style of chosen images, and he does not usually print images of drawings or paintings.
The Future of Vimpt
Vimpt is a self- funded project and free of charge for photographers. That makes it unique. Craig tells that photographers have requested purchasing prints, and he’s trying to set up a service that could at least supply prints for exhibitions, but Vimpt as such will always continue to give away free prints. Selling prints was never its goal.
However, Craig, who sometimes produces same images twice in order to replace the ones lost in the postal service, admits that Vimpt is approaching a time when he needs to raise funds to be able to keep making and giving away prints for free. He is planning to establish a donation page on the website. “But it’s difficult to know how to ask for money to continue something that is free.”
Craig himself takes mostly pictures of his loved ones. And no, he does not have any personal account other than Vimpt. “I don’t have much time outside Vimpt and my family, and I much prefer collaborating with other people, it’s more inspirational. For me, photography on social media is about conversations, collaborations and sharing information but in a beautiful and unique way.”
Because of Vimpt, Craig spends a lot of time online, and he is a huge fan of digital art. Yet he is an even bigger fan of physical print.
“Seeing Hiroshi Sugimoto’s prints or the work of Stephen Gill or Masao Yamamoto, or even leafing through a great photo book makes far more of an impression on me than seeing work on a screen.”