At Your Disposable

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A little while ago, one of my pen pals suggested a fun photography challenge: each of us would be tasked with documenting a day in our lives (in Germany and New England, respectively) with the help of a disposable camera.

I hadn’t used one of those weird, boxy photo-machines since the early 2000s, so I was curious to return to the strange art of not-so-instant photography for the first time in years!

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Surprisingly, it’s not all that easy to acquire a disposable camera these days. I ended up tracking down a little 27-exposure Kodak for under $15, but you can also get store-brand (e.g. CVS, Walgreens) cameras for way less. I developed them at CVS for another $15, and it took two weeks for me to get my prints–a lengthy process perhaps established to discourage hipster-wannabes for resurrecting the instant film market.

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Though amateur/affordable photography has come such a long way since the golden age of disposables, there were some aspects of this seemingly ancient technology that I enjoyed rediscovering. I came of age during the rise of widely accessible digital camera technology, so I’m accustomed to photographic instant gratification. Call it unchecked nostalgia, but I actually grew fond of my inability to view the final product after I’d taken a snapshot: it made it easier to move on and enjoy the landscape without spending ages redoing the photo over and over again. These disposable images are unfocused and oversaturated memories of places and times: little universes unto themselves rather than true simulations of the real world…

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…in other words, it may not be the best method for quality photography in the twenty-first century, but if you want to capture some ghostly, magical scenes for a faraway friend, what could be better?

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5 thoughts on “At Your Disposable

  1. This is such a great “tag” or swap. I miss the old cameras a lot. I was looking through childhood photos the other day and I realised it was so clear when we stopped printing photos because years just vanished. Thankfully, I was a teenager by then, but I wonder how many kids nowadays will have real photos to look back on. I also hate how every photo taken now is analysed, maybe deleted, retaken. We are so obsessed with a “perfect” photo, yet when we used to get them back several weeks later we could easily smile at the funny ones and usually found them all beautiful because they had a special meaning and memory. We are so obsessed with creating a “perfect” lifestyle and only showing that 2 dimensional side of ourselves, it does bother me and I think it contributes to a lot of growing issues in mental health etc. X

    • I think you’ve really hit on something here! Art historian that I am, I can’t help thinking of how people first reacted to the rise of photography as an art form–some critics argued that photography was science, not art, because it depicted reality exactly as it is. As you say, though, it seems we sometimes use photography (and then the social media through which it is shared) to present a more perfect version of our lives and embellish reality–proving 19th century art critics wrong, coincidentally, but losing some of the fun and truthfulness of photography in the process! 🙂

  2. I so totally agree with your ideas about disposable cameras capturing memories rather than images – I’m in the process of writing a post about some old disposable-camera photos I’ve rediscovered, so I’m feeling really nostalgic about them at the moment!

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