What is it about film photo prints that is just a little bit magic? For those of us above a certain age, they recall childhood memories, those feelings of ecstasy at having a treasured roll of film developed, like claiming a prize you’d worked hard to earn. The elation at rewinding and extracting film you knew held all the goods from that birthday party at the Laser Tag centre, the one where they played S Club 7 as your cake came out and your mum snapped a picture of you and your friends looking hella good, new butterfly clips in your hair. The thrill of picking them up after that unbearable wait, basically inhaling the images the second you tore open the packet… ignoring all warnings to keep your smudgy fingerprints off them.
For sure, part of their appeal lies – much like that of vinyl records – in the reminder they serve; a reminder of a beloved, more simple moment in time, seemingly now out of reach. But there is something else too. Even to use print cameras now, when so many digital alternatives exist, guarantees an undeniable thrill.
Over the Christmas/New Year break, some friends and I headed west to do a winter wonderland road trip from Vancouver to Calgary, covering some of the most coveted snowy scenery in the world. The trip has since come to mean more to me than I ever could have imagined at the time, COVID-19 having unceremoniously cut our time in Canada short, making it one of the only Canadian adventures we were able to have while living there.
At Christmas, one of our party was given a disposable camera for the express use of documenting our road trip. Because of this, using up every single exposure during the holiday became a sort of entertaining challenge. What are the moments most worth capturing when you suddenly only have a finite number of opportunities? What moments will even work on a camera like that, when editing is not an option, checking for blurriness or a sloping skyline is not longer possible?
You wouldn’t believe how much our behaviour in front of the camera lens changed with all these parameters in place. Suddenly the cheesy arms thrown over shoulders returned to frames, the grainy dark photos of yesteryear made a reappearance, but through the haze that makes it “not a good photo” the candid laughter so unperformed makes it one of the best of the lot. The one time you try for an Instagram-worthy set-up in the mirror, a smudge you hadn’t noticed covers one person’s face completely, but the result is somehow more charming for it.
This was my first time using print camera in more years than I care to count, but I get the feeling it won’t be my last.