Ah, nostalgia. It’s usually a very sweet feeling in our mouths and bodies, when we think back fondly on good times from years past and relive the moment, or moments, over and over again.
The feeling also lends itself into other aspects of our lives, whether it be fashion or photography.
In fashion, we see similar trends come back every year, or every other decade. Last year, the choker was a major accessory piece for any outfit and it came in various materials, patterns, and styles. Actresses, bloggers and your friends at school wore a choker, whether it was the tattoo choker that stuck to your neck like a rubber band or a thin black chain with a charm that hung on the middle of your neck (like a sun, crescent moon or maybe an alien face). Skinny jeans, despite their long stand at the top of the denim kingdom since the late 2000s, have faded out and been replaced with mom-jeans and culottes which were popular bottoms in the 80s and 90s. Fashion is cyclical. What was popular before will be rehashed and reused in years to come.
So, can the same be said about photography? Maybe. But in a different way.
I grew up on the rise of the digital boom so I can still remember my days sitting on the playground, doing my math homework over a concrete chess table (#Brooklyn) and seeing my school peers texting on their sidekicks. I think the only reason that I - or anyone for that matter - ever really wanted a sidekick was to be able to flip the screen back and forth by flicking one's fingers. Let's not forget those Pink Motorola Razors. Anyone who had that phone was by default the coolest person around.
I didn’t really have a way to communicate with friends until middle school when I began using my house phone for phone calls, which is ironic to even think about now given how most of us have completely abandoned house phones or making phone calls in general. Texting is the preferred method of choice. I think most of us, upon getting a phone call nowadays, would assume it's either an emergency or a wrong number. If it's neither an emergency or wrong number, then our next inclination is to ask the person calling "Why didn't you just text me that?".
I received my first cell phone in 6th grade because my grandfather was supposed to pick me up from school and take me home. But he never showed up. I waited outside on the front steps of the school, hopeful he would arrive at any moment and that he had just forgotten what day it was or had lost track of time; and I remained hopeful until my hope grew into worry and I asked a fellow student to borrow their phone. I ended up going home alone that day (my grandpa was fine) but the incident was a wake-up call (pun not intended) for my parents to get me my own phone.
Soon after that incident, I received my T-Mobile brown flip-phone which I ended up barely even using, except to make phone calls. My Dad had a Blackberry for his job so I used that to play games (re: "Brickbreaker").
Texting was weird because you'd have to press the same button a few times to get the letter you wanted, and you always had a 99% chance of hitting the button too quick and getting the wrong letter. messed up. So then you'd have to delete that letter and start the torturous task all over again.
What about taking photos? Remember how long the screen would lag and when you finally saw the picture you took, it was blurry? We've certainly come far in technology in that respect alone.
Millennials, constantly called “lazy, arrogant, and (insert any other word the media uses to put us down)”, also live in a completely different world than the one we grew up in. In other words, there’s a huge sense of dissociation from our idyllic, isolated childhoods to this dot.com boom of interconnectedness with everyone at every single second. On one hand, it’s great of course - the growth of technology has been wonderful. With families being able to keep in contact overseas, people all over the world sharing their stories of triumph and success, and celebrities and brands being able to communicate with their fans and customers at the touch of a button, technology has given us so much more than we could’ve ever imagined for. But, and there's a but, something doesn't always feel good about it.
There’s a feeling of emptiness, at least for me. Perhaps we (or maybe it's just me) are missing that sense of isolation from our childhoods, like when we would make plans in school to meet up on a Saturday afternoon to go to the park and had no way of contacting each other except to call the house phone if plans were to change. Totally poor example but you get my point. We were free to live our own lives but also have a higher sense of appreciation for people's time when we would get together with them; we would ask them what they were up to and what had they been doing because we had no other way of knowing. We didn't have Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter to update us on their whereabouts.
As great as being so connected is, it could be that knowing each other’s every move has somewhat impeded our abilities to even communicate with one another anymore.
Why bother asking what’s going on with a friend when you can just go on their Instagram and see for yourself?
5th grade was the first time I ever really used a computer. I had to do a project on the history of clocks and lord only knows I probably copy and pasted most of the information that I found because I didn’t know that that was a bad thing. Now I know plagiarism is not cool of course, but back then I thought ‘Wow, all I have to do is copy all this information and then present it. Bam I'm done!’. Definitely a very idyllic mindset to have. A mindset you kind of can't help but miss in a way, too.
Photography lets us relive that feeling. We can relive that feeling through the pictures we took, and we can relive that feeling through the cameras we choose to use. Film cameras have an inherent, innate nostalgic quality to them and the photos they develop. No one film camera is the same but overall, they all manage to create photos that feel intimate, genuine.
I grew up with my mother using a silver film camera to take photos of us at family gatherings and vacations. She would then go to a nearby ‘shop’ where she would get the photos developed. We have dozens of photo albums in our house of all those photos, so growing up, I was used to having film around me in some capacity.
But then I remember we stopped using that camera and instead began using my father’s digital camera. It made sense - printing photos was expensive and why print photos that we don’t even know will turn out good? Why not just take the photo on a digital camera and then if we like the preview on the computer, we’ll get it printed? Seemed like a no-brainer. It was economical and wise.
Yet, isn’t that one of the reasons film cameras are so sentimental and special? You don’t know what you’re going to get in a photo until you get it developed and it’s in your hands staring right back at you and even then you have to revisit the moment you took it in - when, where, with who.
There’s something about holding a film camera in your hand that invokes a sense of nostalgia. And for most of us, the nostalgic feelings are some of the best feelings we ever get to experience, even if we’re just reliving them over and over again from something from our past. This could be why film has become so popular again, not that it has ever really gone away.
Maybe many of us miss our naive, unencumbered, uninhibited, free-to-do-as-we-please (to some extent) childhoods and in some way, however tiny it is, film reminds us of that. Film allow us to transcend the reality we are currently in and bring us back to our blissful, peaceful childhoods. Film allows us to be one with ourselves and who we are deep-down in our souls. Film allows us to capture moments that we think are special and not know how they’ll look until we finally get them developed. Many photos may come out looking like utter crap. Blurry, unfocused, cut-off, overexposed/underexposed, cropped poorly, crooked, etc. But there’s something to those imperfections that makes it all worth it I think. It’s something special.
The photos I've interspersed throughout this piece have been taken on either a disposable film camera or two other film cameras. I don’t pretend to know film or want to make it seem like I do; I just enjoy pointing and shooting and then seeing my film come to life when it’s developed. I love walking around and catching something that demands me to take a photo of it and then I do and then I see it in my hands and I’m glad I captured it.
Sure, some shots I take are not the best (not that I think I’m the best!) and sure, I still use my IPhone for a lot of photo-taking, but when I see the photos after they’ve been developed, I always get that nostalgia and warmth that I so desperately miss. And isn't that what many of us are searching for?