I have a new toy - the kind that makes it hard to concentrate because all I want to do is play. It's a camera! Not a shiny SLR or point-and-shoot with web access. It's a plastic, completely manual camera of the kind that was invented in the 60s as a cheap novelty and should be entirely obsolete to the high-tech smartphone in my pocket… but is not.
Despite myriad photo apps and sharing services accessible through my Phone-with-a-capital-P, I'm more excited about the prospect of try and fail and try again. What makes low-tech so appealing? I’m not alone in this. There is a whole movement called Lomography followed by scores of amateur photographers trolling the streets with analog cameras around their necks, looking for artful compositions to capture.
Is it just the rejection of all things digital? Maybe. It’s certainly nice to have something in my bag that doesn’t need to be recharged. But it’s also because it’s hard. It requires effort and thought. It will take weeks of trial and error to get it right and I may actually learn a new skill. I think that’s what I’m most excited about – the prospect of seeing the world around me in a different way. It forces me to pay attention to light and contrast and texture in a way that I’d forgotten with my digital camera.
Then there’s the waiting. In an era of instant results, the patience required to wait for film to be developed is excruciating. But while I may not know how a shot will come out until several days later, the prospect of happy accidents and unexpectedly beautiful results is my reward.
In fact, it’s those unexpected effects of analog photography which those digital programs try to recapture - oversaturated colors, distortions, and blurring. I could snap a picture with my Phone and retouch it with any number of enhancements to make it look “old-school.” But the chance that this could happen on its own is much more exciting.
That’s really one of the fundamental changes of moving from analog to digital. We’ve lost the potential for unexpected surprises. We press a button and know exactly what we’re going to get. What fun is that?