On my 17th birthday, my dad bought me an instant film camera, the Fujifilm neo classic. Never having owned one before I was so excited to use it. Back then, I was completely unaware of the significance it will have on my life.
In retrospect, the instant film was making a comeback, so I gladly hopped on the trend. In the beginning, I tried to take cool pictures but failed miserably. Either the lighting was too dark or too bright, the photos were out of focus or the entire frame was completely black. It’s safe to say, it took me a while to get a hang of things. Eventually though, after heartbreakingly wasting so much film, I learned what worked and what didn’t.
In 1948, Edwin Land (co-founder of Polaroid) invented the first instant camera. Interestingly, what lead him to the invention was his daughter’s question…
“Why can’t I see the photo?”
Land took that challenge upon himself and developed the Polaroid Land Camera. The camera was sold out in minutes at $89.95. It practically exploded in popularity and by the ’70s, Polaroid reached peak sales with the release of SX-70.
Back then, most people had to wait for weeks to get a hold of the pictures they took. Land’s invention provided convenience and speed of distribution of pictures.
Today, instant cameras preserve a sense of nostalgia and solidify moments. But, gradually with the digitalization of cameras, the company steered away from instant photography.
While traveling abroad I’d always make sure to pack my camera along. I took pictures of whatever I wanted to solidify. Monuments, flowers, the sky and even mundane structures like streetlights became things to marvel at. It’s like looking at the world with a whole new perspective; I was excited. Then, the time came to move out and head to university, and so naturally, I brought my camera along.
The next three years of my life were probably the most challenging. Moving to an entirely new country, juggling assignments, work, and depression, all started to take a toll on my happiness. I was desperately trying to feel alright through unhealthy coping mechanisms. Eventually, I stopped doing most things I loved and I started to stay inside more and more.
Of course, none of this helped. It made me miserable and to cope I indulged further, creating a vicious cycle. The thing about depression is, it erases the good memories you lived through. As if your whole life has been this way, bleak and colorless. But that’s not true, even if I don’t remember. I have proof, for myself.
I remember sort of re-discovering my little photo album in the back of my drawer. It got pushed back because of all my notebooks. Looking at the polaroids I took from the age of 17 made me realize I’ve had good days. Those little 54 x 86 mm pieces of film served as reminders that I’ll have more of these moments. With not many people around to remind me of this fact, my photos really helped.
The pictures I take on my phone don’t have the same effect. There’s something different about holding memory in your hand opposed to it being some abstract thing in the cloud. With all the loneliness that comes with moving to a new place. I longed for something that could attach me to real objects. I spent so much time online writing, chatting and watching, I wanted to look away from the screen. Moreover, since I found my photos I also started using my camera again and often. This meant actually leaving the house and taking pictures of places and things. I was taken back to when I first got it as a present, the very same excitement.
Decades of history is tied to the instant camera. It encapsulates the junction between technology and human perspective. For me, it’s a way of recording, collecting and holding on to my fondest memories.
I might not have every pleasant memory recorded with my camera. That’s alright, a small reminder is sufficient especially on the days that seem to hard to get by.