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The performative effortlessness of the Indie Sleaze aesthetic

The I-don’t-give-a-fuck-aesthetic of the late 2000s and early 2010s wasn’t as authentic as it appeared

If you remember The Cobra Snake blog, photographs of Cory Kennedy partying in New York, crackle nail polish, and the hype around American Apparel, then there is a high chance you were born before the beginning of the new millennium. The resurgence of the Indie Sleaze aesthetic has been floating through the internet for a couple of weeks now and has its origins back in the late 2000s and the beginning of the 2010s.

TikTok trend forecaster and writer Mandy Lee (@oldlooserinbrooklyn) anticipated the comeback of the i-don’t-give-a-fuck aesthetic back in October. With web 2.0 transforming the internet in 2003/2004, pages like MySpace and Tumblr started peaking thoughout the late 2000s, and flooding the World Wide Web with flashy pictures of celebrities at afterparties, melancholic Lana Del Rey quotes, and Indie Rock music à la Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The internet as a tool of self-expression was born – but was it less performative than today?

What makes the Indie Sleaze aesthetic so appealing today is the seemingly spontaneous way people had been captured using flash or the back camera of a Blackberry Curve instead of curating a full colour graded and edited grid on Instagram. Olivia V., owner and curator of the Instagram account called @indiesleaze lived through and participated in the era herself. “It wasn’t about spending money, it wasn’t about luxurious things necessarily. It was about having experiences, going to shows, meeting people, having a good time, and living it up – so very hedonistic.” Back in this care-free era, brands like American Apparel jumped on DIY/bedroom photography mainly using flash and pinpoint cameras to simulate effortlessness and therefore the attitude of a whole generation. However, Lillian Wilkie, publisher, writer, and editor for magazines like Modern Matter and C4 Journal, argues that: ”This aesthetic is nothing new and not particular to that scene – rather, it has been a staple of press and nightlife photography throughout the twentieth century.”

 

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An example of that would be photoblogs like the before-mentioned The Cobra Snake who used photographic tools like an on-camera flash to make colours pop more. Among the celebrities he captured were a young Katy Perry, the Olsen twins, and Jeremy Scott, Creative Director of Moschino. “These images became the main currency of the club and party scene – there wasn’t any point in going to Boombox or Ponystep unless you were photographed there. Rather than being photographically significant, I think this kind of imagery said more about a shift going on in youth feminism and identity politics which was encouraged/exacerbated by Web 2.0 cultures and early social media,” Wilkie explains.

With the possibility of expressing yourself in a digital realm, a change in social behaviour took place and the way people wanted to be perceived online and offline. Surprisingly (or not), this is not as different as in today’s time – the desire to see and to be seen. Sarah Ejionye, a fashion photography student from London College of Fashion noticed: “It seems like there’s a growing fatigue with the need to appear perfect all the time with social media, although I’d argue that people still care just as much about what they post, but in different ways.”

 

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As the pandemic is (hopefully) slowly starting to fade out,  younger generations feel the need to let loose, go out and just not care for one night. This also mirrors how posting photo dumps – usually a carousel of non-professional, mostly random, semi-intimate pictures – have become more and more popular. Both fashion and photography trends come in cycles, and even if the Indie Sleaze aesthetic is making its way back to capturing our surroundings more candidly, we can’t get rid of our egos. Even if we start posting more je-ne-sais-quoi pictures we have to admit that our audience still stays in the back of our head. Ejionye says: “I feel that the photo dump is still highly curated, it’s just not as obvious as well-lit and perfectly manicured selfie posts.”

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