Have you seen them? Images taken using an unforgiving flash that turn a harsh spotlight on their subject. Though they may not appeal to all, these exciting and dynamic images stick out of the crowd.
We call this style "Flashback". Join our trend watch with semiotician Karin Sandelin at Kantar Sifo.
Karin, what is typical of this trend?
Flashback creates sharp contrasts between light and dark. Intense white light illuminates the closest aspects of the subject while leaving the rest in deep shadow with dark surroundings.
The sharp contrasts make marked contours and intense images that differentiate themselves from the gentle, romantic filters that are still so common. These images are characterized by confidence and challenge, both of which startle and entice the viewer, depending on their emotional needs at that particular moment.
There are those of us who remember fanzine imagery with home-copied editions of black and white clipped images that had a high level of contrast and a lot
of black. Both of these trends have an attitude of revolution and punk, but the flashback trend brings with it an entirely different level of knowledge and technical resources.
The term "Flashback"
According to Wikipedia, the psychological phenomenon of flashback is described as "...a psychological phenomenon of re-experiencing, which means that a person relives something from their past, often in the form of quick snapshots."
This description corresponds nicely to the image trend's relation to authenticity and the nineties, in addition to the fact that the use of flashes has literally returned.
How did the trend start?
Most of the brands and organizations I work with highlight the importance of authenticity. It has always been important, but has become even more so in contrast to fake news.
Images of everyday life dominate daily image feeds – often arranged portraits of everyday life that are meant to be perceived as inclusive and honest.
With time, ways of expressing authenticity have developed and we see more emotionality in image trends. For many years, Nordic white light with romantic subjects were dominant. Now we are seeing a great deal of the Nordic noir trend which displays authenticity in a more serious, muted blackness.
I see the return of the flash as yet another means of developing authentic expression, just as Nordic noir was, but with more explicit, sudden extrovert-oriented dramatics
that are challenge and startle more readily – at least for now. Otherwise, developments in technology and improved techniques in the hands of users has meant that we see very little of flash images in everyday feeds. In our common image culture, the flash has brought about a sense of excitement and intensity in everything from blurry images from home parties and exclusive views from the red carpet and "where it's all going down" to the jolting, intense flashing scenes from horror movies. The
fact that we are now crazy about the nineties is also part of the answer, a time when MTV and music videos were important everyday visual input. Many of them now have iconic status and are still relevant today, like
"No good" with The Prodigy, with its harsh spotlights, stroboscopes and flashes.
Even illustrative phenomena such as whistleblowers, WikiLeaks and source scrutiny can be part of the complex network that affects the development of imagery. Now that each of us has access to digital social platforms and can spread our messages, often in a concise form that's as immediate as a flash, we cannot just get stuck in Nordic romanticism.
Nor can we be content with an adult sobering blackness – there are more sides to the coin, where blazing lighting (Flashback) is one.
What signals does my communication send when I use images like this?
Flashes can be used in different ways to enhance your communication and your brand identity. Generally, using a flash relays a message of a confident and deliberately cocky attitude, sharp and enlightening.
Who is this style good for?
It can be relevant to most categories – brands, government agencies and organizations alike. Government agencies are the least likely candidates, but don't be surprised if you see the trend used by a trade union or aid organization. Or why not by those who want to convey that they challenge the expertise and knowledge of the financial sector? For all those who are tired of idyllic families and summer meadows.
When shouldn't I use it?
I would generally not recommend it for brands that wish to portray a reassuring and caring identity. Naturally, it depends on the category you belong to; in fashion and popular culture it is already established enough to not be as shocking or edgy as it would be in other contexts.
Revel in Flashback!
Do you like this style? Check out flashback as interpreted by Johnér's photographers.