March 27, 2018

Nostalgia Week | The Indispensability of Experience

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Strangers come to know me as, “that girl who brings disposable cameras to parties,” a tagline I’ll accept. Though tokens of a past seemingly devoid of technology, these unmistakable plastic machines have become pretty fundamental to my college experience.

It’s tough pinpointing exactly why we like the things we like, but what we can be certain of is that we mostly remember how things make us feel. It isn’t just the element of antiquity adding sentimental value. For me, it’s both scarcity and tangibility that together create experiences out of a light-induced chemical reaction.  

My grandfather owned a Sawyer’s slide viewer and took just around one hundred photographs. He recorded his entire twenties on glossy filmstrips no bigger than a matchbox. Looking at these tiny copper fragments, made vibrant between light and magnifier, I felt like I was stepping through a portal into the 1950s. I can’t relate to Philco television sets and tinsel Christmas trees, but suddenly their quintessences didn’t feel quite so distant

Photo albums later became my family’s memory depository. Cracking open vacation albums and baby books was a nostalgia trip beyond visual inducement. It engaged all my senses- the feel of a photograph’s silky exterior against my fingertips, the crinkling sound of the plastic slipcover as pages flipped, and even that familiar book scent. This physicality was as much a part of the experience as were the memories themselves.

As the content captured within photos has evolved throughout time, the means of photography have advanced along with it. Smartphones have taken command as a main image medium, becoming almost as ubiquitous in modern “photography” as in their intended communicative function. But they lack experiential depth, ultimately missing the point of recording entirely. The physical process of taking a picture via disposable camera possesses immersive qualities a smartphone could never deliver.

Firstly, Fujifilm Quicksnaps and Kodak FunSavers have a hard 27 or so shot limit per film roll. This forces us to prioritize content we deem important, which surprisingly teaches a degree of self-control and discipline to a world so accustomed to living without limits or restraints. It really makes you reconsider what’s actually meaningful and worth documenting (hint: it’s not the 28 Iphone pics you took of your avocado toast to stunt on Instagram).

Then, there’s the interactiveness of the camera itself. You look through the viewfinder at a world magnificently simplified through the confines of a miniscule glass frame. You directly orchestrate the shot- you apply pressure to the shutter, then comes  a brilliantly luminous flash and a resonant “click.” You wind the reel, sentencing your memory to the film not knowing how your camera will interpret it.

Unfortunately, in true millennial fashion, we’ve managed to popularize trends and tech that seek to imitate an easy outcome without paying due respect to the process. The ultimate fraud, otherwise known as Huji, has cluttered our feeds in an attempt at  edginess that wholly lacks authenticity. With Huji and other similar fake disposable camera apps, slap on a tacky filter (in algorithmic repetition), a wait time of about 10 seconds while the photo “develops,” and a date stamped along the edge. The instantaneity and false craftship undermine the whole point of documenting and even spoil the eccentricity of disposable cameras.

We’ve become so obsessed with immediacy that waiting seems to be more of an abstract concept than a virtue. Living in a generation of instant gratification, it’s refreshing to be rewarded for weeks of patience in the form of 27 developed memories I’ve created but have never quite seen before. To me, it’s a method of rediscovery. I get to relive significant moments through the perspective of an objective entity. Most of the time, some prints will be damaged or won’t develop at all- but it makes the successful prints even more valuable. The camera applies natural filters that manipulate light and color in a way that reconstructs your view of the world. These photos evoke that sense of iconism you get from looking at remnants of the past, and I think they will preserve the zeitgeist future generations will hope to bring back and imitate.

Is using a disposable camera tech-savvy or practical? Absolutely not. But as long as we can continue to snap boundless iPhone photos, and until we can reach out and touch pixels, I’ll continue to define my experiences through these bulky, outdated treasures. Because the art of process will always be trendy.