In a dark room in the United Kingdom, Craig Austin would be bent over, developing printed photographs. Outside the room, his smartphone would be blaring with Instagram posts—a monochrome sunflower, a man with a giant wheel in the backdrop, a lonely, leafless tree, a shadow play of a monument’s arches—all waiting to be transformed from pixels to prints. This is the Instagram account of Vimpt, and the darkroom, the workshop of Craig who every week chooses a few images submitted on Instagram under #vimptfreeprint, turns them into fine art prints and sends them back to the photographer for free.
“The act of making an historicprint in my darkroom in the U.K. from an image that a kid had taken on their smartphone in the U.S was something I was amazed by,” says Craig. It was with the same spirit that he began the project Vimpt which is an abbreviation of ‘Very Important.’ This interest in making historic prints from digital files began when he was working with Jonathan Worth for his project Phonarnation. Craig would make historic prints for those taking the online photography classes and send the prints to the U.S. with information about producing salt prints or cyanotypes. When Craig realized the possibility of a platform like Instagram, he decided to take this project up formally, and created Vimpt. “I love the idea of photography being a shared currency,” Craig says. “That it is something we can communicate with globally is exciting. And add to this free prints!” The account was started in 2015, and now after more than 60,000 submissions and over 500 free prints, the project is only growing.
Craig had loved how photography bought historic, chemical, mathematical and cultural aspects and strung it together to one art form.He first got involved with photography during his Art Foundation and went on to do a photography degree at the University of Derby, where he was taught under some great teachers including John Blakemore and Steve Edwards. Craig then took photography up professionally, working within a busy London Photography Studio. Later, he became a part of a photographic cooperative working alongside two other colleagues producing work for record labels and magazines.
After this, he stepped into the education sector and worked as the darkroom manager for the University of Westminster. He also worked as a lecturer on undergraduate and postgraduate photography courses at Coventry University and worked on a few projects with Jonathan Worth and Kate Green. It was through this that he was later invited to become Fellow of Royal Society of Arts & Commerce.
Craig prefers calling this initiative as Alternative Processes which gives it a broad context to this hybrid approach. He believes this project is more than giving the world free prints. It is a move that brings together materiality and the digital.Having a tangible print anchors the meanings of the image. And when this print has a nature of its own, it only enhances the personality of the image. Moreover, the type of print brings in a little history. The Salt Print and Cyanotype print are the earliest examples of photographic practice. With that, these prints connect the historic origins of photography to technology of the present. In this digital era, Craig does not feel that looking for answers of printing in the past is a step backwards. Instead, he believes that the material and the print helps anchor the meaning into the digital. It puts the image in your hands, linking the past and the present and anchoring it within another time and space.
And just like that, the image speaks. It speaks to the viewer and with the history. “The prints open up the conversation between the digital and materiality,” explains Craig, “but more interestingly, it forms an interesting link from today’s global networks to the origins of mass communication.”
Deciding which image to choose for print is a difficult aspect of the project.Craig keeps in mind a couple of things when choosing the image to make a Salt Print of a Cyanotype. If the image relies on a particular colour he knows it won’t work as a monotone print. The same goes with images that are overworked with photo-apps. What an alt print adds to the image can become lost.
Vimpt’s two pillars are community and photography. Interaction with the community gives this project the life and the possibility of taking new directions. It is a challenge at the same time. “As I spend a lot of the week in the darkroom, I can easily miss people’s posts from the IG community,” Craig explains. To make things smoother, Craig has now created a new website that will be an extended conversation about print with workshops and discussions about different processes and techniques, updates about community events, ideas and projects. “This will make it easier as up till now I have relied on emailing PDF’s and links, book recommendations to people who were interested in the subject.” The website is currently being built by Now Press Studio and will soft launch later this April.
“I’m not sure where Vimpt is headed, but I am really excited watching it grow and the continual changes it’s going through,” Craig says. “The support from the Instagram community has been incredible. I wouldn’t have been able to start or sustain Vimpt without their help and encouragement.” As long as passionate artists continue to tell stories through their viewfinders, the project Vimpt will be brimming with life, transforming itself from intangible pixels to palpable copies back in the hands of the photographer, recreating the dimensions of time.