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Photographer Nicholas Shaya is Messing With Nostalgia

Nostalgia: A touchy subject to most, joyful or longing, has served as a point of deep self-exploration for director and photographer Nicholas Shaya. Having recently graduated from New York University’s prestigious film school at Tisch, the young artist finds himself at a painfully ambiguous moment in his lifewistfully reminiscent of his past, while buoyantly anticipating his future. It’s still not that simple.

Shaya’s relationship with the process of recall is a complicated one, stirring up the unsettling reality that what he remembers is no longer how he remembers it. As things move on, Shaya holds on.

Equipped with his film point-and-shoot, the photographer exposes his hesitation to embrace change by freezing life’s brief, banal, and often overlooked moments into forever-frames, thus also displaying a habit of immortalizing memories, or as he would put it: “Messing with Nostalgia”.

Unique in his practice, Shaya is not alone in his sentiment. There is no doubt that he is well-accompanied in his feelings by fellow millennials. This topic is an undeniably relevant one if you consider our youth’s obsession with locking experiences into square-framed posts, fleeting 24-hour stories, and now, with the ease of an update, even perennial highlights. That said, Shaya’s participation in this practice is deeper than the longing for social affirmation; it extends closure to the emotional artist. In fact, a brief stalking of his Instagram profile will disclose that this project dedicated to nostalgia is not the first of its kind.

Flashback to the summer between high school and college, not coincidentally also a transitional period, the then-18-year-old photographer participated in a #365dayselfiechallenge, which dedicated a single photo and caption per each day of living for an entire year. While admitting that most of the posts have since been archived (not deleted—you now could gather that deleting would be far too permanent for the nostalgic photographer), just partaking in the challenge affirms Shaya’s biased inclination for holding on over moving on. With even further review, the social media project could even be considered representative of a larger mass perspective towards change and how modern media has been employed to explore and cope with it.

Things are always changing; life a malleable subject to the passing of time. With that said, inevitably progress has changed the way that we document life’s passing, and memorialize that which has passed. There are tools now that will remember for us, but in that dependency we assume a dwindling capacity for memory. This then manifests into a desperate reliance and eventually, a vicious cycle. Much like the chicken and the egg, it’s hard to tell what came first—the archiving tools or our need for them. Shaya, a vocal victim to this phenomenon, serves also in a way as an ambassador for it. Enlisting his documentary lens, he captures what’s lost, but in his intent confronts its evanescence. The difference in the way that he takes his photo and say, an Instagram-influencer-star takes hers (despite the obvious disparities) is that Shaya shoots understanding that what is captured will no longer be after the fleeting blink of his camera, while she among millions are oblivious participants in a trending culture of mindless documentation.

The purpose for “Messing with Nostalgia” is admittedly rooted in a somewhat selfish pursuit—one that Shaya undertakes as a coping mechanism for the expiring moments that taunt his memory. Over a table of espresso and iced hibiscus tea in the Lower East Side, Shaya reflects on his deeper motive:

“This ongoing series, ‘Messing With Nostalgia’, deals with my unwavering feeling that home is no longer home. I find wrinkles on the faces of loved ones. Bodies of friends that I slept next to during elementary school sleepovers were once smooth skinned, free from hair under their arms, chests, and legs. Now all I see is the marring of time. My mother’s contact photo in my phone dates back to when I was eleven. She’s holding the remote control to a TV we no longer own. When she calls I see the face of a familiar, younger woman I no longer know. She doesn’t look at me, the lens, or the world as she did ten years ago. This series is a futile attempt at cutting my losses and bottling what’s left of a world that has changed more than I’d like.”

Revisit Nicholas Shaya’s freeze-frame memories in the gallery above.

Images courtesy of Nicholas Shaya

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