Could a limit of 32 photos be the perfect antidote to the constant accessibility of digital cameras, helping us suppress our overly snap happy desires and restoring the value of each picture we take? I pop this idea in my hand luggage and whisk it away on a long weekend to Florence to find out.
In my last article, you may remember the rant I had about the Smartphone camera and its ‘oh too pressable’ shutter release, the extinction of the shiny 6-4 photo print, and the temporality of the .jpeg image. I vowed to never use my iphone as a photo album again, and to renew my vows with my Lumix DMC on the path to achieving fewer, and better quality pictures. Nonetheless, I can only blame my inner laziness as my photos still remain on its SD card, since after inspecting them on its digital preview screen, uploading them onto my computer to see them on a, well, larger digital screen somehow failed to incite any excitement.
Furthermore, after seeing my mother sift through over two thousand images on the plane back from a holiday, having bought and filled up two new memory cards en route, I decided this tedious task wasn’t for me. Seeing the world through a viewfinder just seemed to dim the sparkle of experiencing something first-hand. What we needed was rehab for our shutter release addiction.
This therapy for our snap-happy fetish came in the form of a cardboard-packaged camera, void of any digital screens, kicking it old school with just a viewfinder and a button to press until the red LED lights up to use the flash. Whilst vintage comes back into our wardrobe with charity shop retro finds becoming our everyday staples and high necks and scrunchies creeping back from the 80’s, it seems to be sneaking back into social media too, with these average quality, vintage coloured, scanned-in prints becoming integral to any edgy art student’s profile. Something about these slightly faded but so-damn-flattering images seems to give a quirky, cosmopolitan look to your daily life.
However, pretentiousness aside, the magic of the disposable camera is found in the number wheel on top – indicating the 32 precious spaces on its film. By limiting the number of photos you can take, the camera promises better thought-out pictures, since what you capture must be worth the backwards click on the number dial, reducing your potential for trigger addiction like the hand of a ticking clock. Could this be the antidote to the iphone camera revolution? Starting with the man in the mirror (no, not the one in that selfie with the flash reflecting over his face so you can only see his gym prepped body), I decided to put this snap-limiting idea into practice, taking just a disposable camera as my partner on a long weekend to Florence, challenging myself to take just 32 pictures in one of Europe’s most photogenic cities.
As an Italian student, art enthusiast and someone who is generally infatuated with pasta, pizza, cappuccino, the Vespa, the Fiat cinquecento, renaissance architecture and almost everything else Florentine, this was not an easy feat. Honestly, after the first evening and next morning, I had already taken far too many night time snaps of the Duomo – it really IS impossible to fit in all into one frame but that litter perfectionist in your head makes sure you just keep trying… ‘oh, surely winding it up ONE more time won’t hurt anyone… just avoid looking at the number dial and pretend it didn’t happen, it’ll be worth it for the perfect shot.’ Furthermore, visiting something as overwhelmingly colourful as the Florentine leather market just calls for beautiful photos and your index finger is magnetically drawn to the shutter button just as your heart is drawn to the beautiful burgundy satchel with embossed leather detailing. This is not to mention the fact that walking through the Italian city with something so inconspicuous as a disposable camera immediately marks one out as a tourist, since you can no longer hide behind the ‘I was just looking at something on my phone and it happened to be pointing in that direction’ guise. I have to admit that a couple of shots on my precious camera film were taking up by the Italian stall holders who so politely offered to ‘make a photo of the pretty lady.’
Consequently, as we reached midday of our first full day in Florence, I was defeated, as my number dial showed three, and I wasn’t even halfway through my city break. I was forced to ask the man at the tourist kiost ‘Dove posso trovare uno como questo?’ and point to my exhausted camera. I was in luck, however, as there was a photography shop just down the road which could provide me with my cheat fix – 32 more photos to play with. I vowed to be much more careful with these, as I knew this really was my last chance, framing every shot carefully and using them as sparingly as I could. However, I admit, I was an addict unrestrained by therapy as every so often I snuck out my iphone camera, just to make sure I didn’t miss a trick by not using one of my precious 32 on something seemingly trivial, and well, I had to have a couple to instagram straight away.
Having now collected my film and looked at my prints, I am definitely pleased with the results of CHALLENGE 32. The vintage colouring gives an effortlessly chic look to the picturesque city, without the need for a photo editor, and the week-long wait for the prints really heightened the value of the photographs. I came out with a good variety of carefully chosen and framed shots, and spreading the shiny prints out on my desk gave an undeniable satisfaction, whilst making me feel a bit like Anne Hathaway in ‘Love and Other Drugs.’
However, no therapy comes without confession time, and I have a few secrets to share: firstly, I exceeded my limit by 407 duplicated ‘insurance’ shots on my iphone, some of which are very good photos but all lack the artistic look of the prints, therefore did not make the cut for my facebook album and have not been used in any way since. Secondly, I obviously cheated here by buying a second camera. And lastly, the most shocking and heartbreaking of all – whilst carrying my two disposable cameras in the bottom of my bag on the way to be developed, I believe the first one fell out somewhere along the way, and I have not seen it since. This is incredibly sad, as I lost all my photos from the first part of the weekend, but it also made me think – in an experiment that was supposed to be an antidote to the temporality of digital images, I in fact lost film images too, and ironically justified myself in not only using two cameras, but in taking shots on my iphone as well.
So what can I conclude from my experiment? Well, for the quirky-arty-cool, the disposable gives shabby chic shots that look a lot more authentic than the standard digital image. For stutter release addicts, challenge 32 does help you restrain yourself and think more carefully about each image you capture, but honestly, it takes the willpower of a saint to do this without cheating, and if you have an overactive eye for the perfect shot, sometimes the number limit just isn’t enough for all your creativity. And lastly, well, ALL photos are temporary, so whilst photography is productive and photo memoirs are precious, the most important film is the one in your memory – so make sure you don’t see everything through a viewfinder.