How is it that disposable cameras even still exist? Once digital photography – and quality digital photography at that, with memory cards and megapixel capability so cheap now anyone can afford them – became standard, one would have thought the old instant film cameras would have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Not so, though – it is, in fact, the existence and availability of digital cameras that have made their disposable chums into a whole new beast. Art is back, and it’s called “throw away”.
How can throw away cameras suddenly be art? Simple. Disposable cameras let shutterbugs do something digital cameras never, ever will. With disposables, the person taking the snap has to wait before they can see what it is they have achieved. There’s a delay – that old school sense of a time lag between the moment of immortalisation (i.e. when the shutter is clicked) and the instant of realisation – when the photographer gets to see how their intended shot actually turned out.
So what? So this: having a forced delay between shot and result (not to mention having to pay to see the results, with no facility for editing and re-shooting), teaches people to see the world in new ways: to respond to it with the eyes of a camera. Taking pictures with disposable cameras, which are practically the only things left to keep the time delay beauty of 35mm film alive, is a constant schooling process – an artistic training that starts to make photographers attack the visual world in new and exciting ways. Why? Because they are being forced to train themselves to see things as their camera sees them. There’s no propensity here to take 100 shots of the same thing, and then go back and do it all over again. Disposable camera users have to take more time and effort with their shots – which makes their shots more interesting and beautiful.
There’s a lovely little offshoot from this – a way in which disposable cameras are starting to encourage something that hasn’t been seen in the photographic world for years. It goes a little something like this: disposables, for all their “real” photographic kudos, are still disposable. This is to say that they make a feature of their transience. A photo taken with a disposable is so unique – because there’s no way for the photographer to impose any real control over the camera, and hence the image.
Disposable cameras have no apertures, no complex manual functions. They just have a shutter button and a winder. That means that they force their users to get very close to the original act of photography – the idea of seeing and memorialising a single instant. Disposables memorialise that instant with no filters, which makes the pictures one gets from them incredibly pure. Every disposable snap is an utterly untouched example of a completely un-edited moment.
In a digital world, that’s a rarity so exciting it’s no wonder disposable cameras have found themselves spearheading an artistic renaissance. Long may they, and it, continue.