Please welcome today’s guest writer, Michelle Ratering. A small town Michigander displaced in South East Asia, Michelle graduated from Calvin College in 2013. Now a resident of Jakarta, Indonesia, she spends her time teaching at an international school, learning a new language, eating tempeh, and planning trips.
For more explanation of this month’s theme, “millennials in thirty things,” check out this post.
I got my first instant camera in 2009. My family is a fan of antiques, a fact that increases exponentially the more of us there are, so our yearly July gatherings at Big Star Lake usually require at least two trips to the antique-and-junk stores of the area. One year, on a hunt for depression glass pieces (sandwich pattern or hobnail, if my memory serves me well), we stumbled into an estate sale. I happily left the sale with my only two purchases of the summer: a blue train case ($5.00) and white polaroid camera ($3.00).
Polaroid had stopped making film for instant cameras in 2008, and even the slightly overpriced film that I found on ebay was set in a cartridge that didn’t quite fit my camera. It had a set of guiding plastic tracks on the bottom that my dad had to shave off with a huge industrial-sized file, since my camera was too old to have been designed with that particular feature. (My first picture taken on that camera was of him holding a file under the dim fluorescent lighting of the garage.) I carefully used my two cartridges of film, and by the time I looked again, even a single pack of expired film was way out of my budget, and the Impossible Project was just announcing the release of their first batch of black and white film.
We no longer live in an analog world. Our bulky cameras have been slicked into thin rectangles, a conglomerate of phone and camera and gameboy so small that we forget we carry it with us. It’s no surprise that we want everything quickly: many of us grew up in a time where we transitioned from using World Books to Google, when we shifted from card catalogues to online databases. The power of progress only accelerates, and we feed into it, our expectations for speed careening faster and faster. At one point in internet history, there was a rule held by web developers that a page should load in two seconds or less. However, a recent article by The New York Times cites research stating that now, a 250 millisecond difference in load time can affect a user’s decision to return to that particular site, or instead choose its competitor in the future.
We don’t want to wait for something to be developed, we want it instantaneously. Books on our tablets, television series on our screens, music in our ears. A blink of an eye is the difference between our satisfaction and our frustration. We don’t want to memorize anything, because we don’t need to—all of that information is only three finger swipes away. And yet, we photograph everything, as if we are scared that our poorly developed memories will somehow forget how delicious our latte was.
Still, we want vintage. We want to feel nostalgic about things we barely remember. We want the analog feeling, but we no longer allow ourselves to feel joy in the anticipation and process of waiting, especially when waiting can mean that our snaps are unable to be checked and erased if they don’t stand up to our modern version of perfection. When Instagram launched in 2010, it delivered a replication of that vintage feeling, but with the now mandatory digital twist. However, we rarely go through the process of having those photos printed out for tangible, non-digital display or personal treasuring.
When visiting the United States this summer, I noticed that there was an increase in the small, instant film cameras produced by Fujifilm. While film from the Impossible Project still runs at about $25 plus shipping for a package of eight exposures, film for the Instax Mini runs at about a dollar per photo. For a society longing for vague childhood memories mixed with instant gratification, that price is just right. The flash flares in the same blink-inducing manner, the same ejecting sound is made, and you can still watch the scene slide from blank nothingness into focus. The response time may not be two seconds, but there are some things we are willing to slow down for.