For many of us, our iPhones and Apple Watches represent far more than tools used for work or entertainment. We share our lives with these devices, and the experiences and memories made with them are reflected in the scratches and fingerprints that accumulate on their cases. A new photography project by New York City-based artist Elvin Hu attempts to shine a light on the underrepresented human side of technology.
Advertising campaigns typically depict technology products in an idealized state. But we all know that devices never stay pristine after more than a few minutes out of the box. The marks and imperfections humans leave behind are worth celebrating. “Just as no two fingerprints are identical, mass-produced products become personal and individualized after they get used,” Hu says.
When embarking on the photo study, the first step was gathering examples of old or well-loved Apple products as subjects for the shoot. Hu has long had an affinity for Apple — he first learned English by watching Apple keynotes — so the project was a fun challenge.
The worn devices have evoked strong feelings of nostalgia from those who’ve seen the photos. Hu explains that images of the same products in perfect condition don’t elicit the same emotions. It’s the wear and tear that connects people with their memories of the devices.
Each product was photographed with a Canon 5D Mark IV tethered wirelessly to an iPad Pro. Hu studied Apple’s product photography style with the intention of evoking the same look. The end result is reminiscent of classic iPod ads and more recent imagery for the Apple Trade In program, which uses worn devices to represent products ready to be upgraded.
After editing the images on a MacBook Pro, prints were created of a scuffed iPod touch, cracked Apple Watch, worn Apple leather iPhone case, and an iPad Pro. Hu posted the prints around Brooklyn to simulate a legitimate ad campaign, where passersby have been stopping to look and snap photos.
The photography project is currently on display in The Cooper Union at 7 East 7th Street in New York City. The gallery is open from May 20th until June 9th, Tuesday through Sunday. Hu’s work in photography can be found on his portfolio site and on Instagram.