My dad owned a Roliflex box camera which he would use to take family portraits. It was an unassuming package like contraption, with a pull out pulley handle on the side to manually move the roll of film over by one shot. It had a metallic lid that would snap open. I found it quite intriguing because it seemed such a novel thing to look down on a box and be able to find a live image floating there.
The second camera to make an impression on me was a Kodak. It had an inbuilt flash which was shaped like a rectangular brick, and it would flip open to become a make shift handle. I still remember that this particular camera used a proprietary roll of film.
My first camera, that I could really call my own, was a freebie which TIME magazine was offering through their in magazine annual membership forms. It was an unassuming unit, with no flash, and a very cheap plastic body. But it was quite dear to me because my father let me keep it for myself.
Film rolls would offer only 36 shots, and also demanded to be developed. There were no LCD screens that could allow us to review the shot and then quickly improve it.
Getting a roll of film developed from a family trip would be really exciting. It felt like a lottery where you never were sure what you were going to end up with. A dark photo where the flash misfired or didn’t at all. A blurry photo where the hands just weren’t steady enough, or if you were lucky and if you knew what you were doing – you could end up with a crisp well framed photograph.
I would budget 5 to 6 photos as mere wastage in each of my rolls, simply because I didn’t know much about the technicalities of aperture, shutter speed or ISO. I just would try to “will” a photograph rather than bother with such vagaries.
A fresh batch of photos from the photo studio would be a good excuse for the family to huddle together and pass around each photo one by one. I am pretty sure that siblings, friends, and many cousins from those days must have chased each other around the house trying to hoard the best photos for themselves or simply doing so to tease each other about some handsome boy or pretty girl that was in the photo.
On school field trips guys would often get their photo taken with a group of girls lurking in the background. Film and its development was a romantic endeavour that was a permanent fixture in most people’s lives.
Today’s social media trend has made photography into a bit of a gimmick that is dominated by narcissism. We take selfies, foodie shots, and a plethora of anything and everything. Back in the 80s or 90s nobody would have wasted a single shot of their 36 roll film on either of these things.
The romanticism of film has been lost, and replaced by a soulless digital camera that renders photos which are more readily available than ever to all of us. Yet this experience lacks the heart and sense of anticipation that I grew up with.
Families no longer congregate in the lounge to laugh, complain, and reminisce of a collective memory.
Instead of passing around a stack of 36 photos, we indifferently launch 100 photos into Facebook.
The sound of laughter has been replaced with “haha” and “lols”. The genuine emotion that bubbled to the fore as the photographs made their round is long gone. Instead we contend with handicapped comments like “great photos”, “loved the pics” and of course “wow” on our phones and computer screens.
Sifting through photos used to be something one did with families or friends. It would be a great reason to invite people over and relive moments. Today we share it with not just families and friends but acquaintances and distant relatives to whom we can seldom relate any true warm sentiment.
Rather than sit down and listen to someone recall their memory of a moment, we must contend with reading text that lacks a warm voice or a reassuring look. When we use to speak with glee about our photos you could feel your friend’s smile because it was right there in front of you to absorb. Now your friend looks at your photos and punches in a series of benign emoticons. It feels like a plastic reaction when compared to that raw and live emotional vibe you got to experience sitting across from someone.
Social media has connected us with so many people, but it seems we have lost or lack true companions in this crowd of virtual buddies.
That warm smile, careless laugh, and the ambience of our lounge — that private space is no more. We have been left with a “Like” counter and phrases on our mute screens.
I wish I had a physical photo of a photograph communal as we poured over a stack of photos with our loved ones sipping tea and passing around finger food.