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The morning after the dire news of Lawrence shutting down last spring, a friend of mine told me that she had an idea. We walked to the Walgreens on College Avenue, where she led me to something I had not seen in years—a disposable camera. Carrying our cameras with us throughout our daily routines, we documented our last few days on campus together and vowed not to develop the film until next fall. The low quality, plastic device became a time capsule that I treasured for the next six months, waiting eagerly to unveil the photos that captured moments I had long forgotten about.
Our cellphones do a magnificent job of making the ability to take photos more accessible than ever before. Not only can we capture special moments without having to worry if we brought a camera with us, but we can also snap pictures of just about anything. Whether it’s a picture of a lecture slide that you don’t want to write down, a map of a public transit route or a screenshot of a humorous photo you saw on social media, our phones are home to a massive amount of photos. While this is very useful, it can also take away from the photos in our camera rolls that do capture special moments. A screenshot of a recipe you only used once has as much weight as a photo of a sibling on their graduation day. Both are tiny, square icons amongst hundreds or thousands.
In addition to this, phones and digital cameras let us create perfect images. We’ve all had to retake a group photo over and over again because each time someone doesn’t like the way they look. Digital cameras allow us to tweak a moment repeatedly until we get exactly what we want. Even more, we can turn to editing to further craft our pictures into our most ideal images. At times, we can end up spending more time trying to get a perfect snapshot of the moment than actually enjoying the moment itself. Although there are plenty of times where it’s useful to be able to view your photo seconds after you take it and get a redo of the moment, there are also times where it’s nice not to feel that obligation.
With a film camera, your photos are limited. A number on the dial counting down your remaining film reminds you to choose your moments wisely. With just 27 picture opportunities on the standard disposable film camera, it’s not practical to retake pictures until they’re perfect. Additionally, there’s no way to judge a photo’s excellence in the moment, because the picture doesn’t exist until it’s developed. The moment is simply captured as it is, imperfect and candid.
To retrieve the photos taken on a film camera is another process that distinguishes this type of camera. Along with needing to be developed, these photos are also printed, meaning that you are left with physical copies of these moments you captured however long ago. It is quite rare now that we find ourselves having photos from our phone printed. If we do, they are often hand selected to fit whatever it is we need them for, whether it is choosing the best photos of your friends for a dorm wall or the most perfect photos of your family to frame. With film, you are left with these physical mementos from pieces of your life, whether they turned out ideally or not. They are a collage of 27 different snapshots of your unfiltered perspective from a given point in time.
My absolute favorite and least favorite part of film photography is the wait that goes into it. Although I find myself impatient and eager to develop a roll of film as soon as it’s finished, there is also something to be said about waiting a bit. Whether it is a few days, weeks, months or even years, waiting to develop a roll of film can be incredibly rewarding. Like noted earlier, the roll of film becomes a time capsule in a way, holding all of these snapshots that were once seen by the eyes of a younger you. These snapshots are never seen again, until that film becomes photos, at which point it is a pretty remarkable feeling to peek back into the perspective of a past you.
Once you have these photos, they can be hung on walls, stored in albums, given to friends or tucked away to be rediscovered in the future. Regardless, they are a special way to capture the essence of your own unique life.