By Marin Yearley
Disposable cameras are an imperfect technology. The film degrades over time, so the photos are only really viable for development within six months of being captured. After this point, heat, moisture, and all the rest of nature’s undeniable forces run their course. Like memories, the images become grainy. Details become outlines. Figures and faces fade to colors smudged in flashes.
For the last couple of years, my Instagram feed has been flooded by these images — slightly washed out relics of wild nights out, sunny park picnics, and everything in between. However, the disposable camera seems to have transcended simple online trendiness. I recently visited my 26-year-old brother’s apartment in Boston to find polaroid portraits of friends pasted to his fridge with scotch tape, sloppy smiles and beer framed by Polaroid’s characteristic blue-green haze. I have seen and used apps that produce photos that mirror this vaguely blurry, vintage quality — many of you probably have, too.
Beyond its appeal to the current craze for all things “vintage,” I think that the disposable camera’s physicality holds a certain allure to a generation that grew up with iPhones in its hands and endless virtual space in its heads. We explored the corners of the globe on Google Earth before we knew how to drive a car and explore beyond our neighborhoods by ourselves, we streamed our friends’ and favorite celebrities’ lives in real time while on vacation with our families. We immortalized our own lives in iCloud storage, watching it all happen again and again in instantly re-playable format.
Even the most expensive film is temporary, but as older generations love to caution, “the internet is forever.” The disposable camera, on the other hand, is a talisman of youth, its photos connoting something fleeting and distinctly past-tense that is tangibly different from the shallow realism of an iPhone camera. Sure, we may download and digitize film, but in its haziness, we can still pretend. Through the cheap green lens, we transport ourselves to a time where gratification was delayed until the camera shop re-opened in the morning and parties were more fun because the rest of real life was a little less fun –– and a little more real.