Photographs not only hold images of our past and experiences, but keep memories and feelings fresh and help channel our reminiscence of those times. They are just paper and ink but are valued above most other things. Many times when people are rushed to escape from a crisis photographs are often grabbed first.
Contemporary cameras are all about pixels, multiple zoom, and auto-focus, promising crisp, clear pictures with the full color spectrum and detailing unmatched. This is all great and you can take some spectacular photographs, but what about those old cameras that gave us photographs with a little more character?
Piles, boxes, and albums full of those old, mostly square pictures, some black and white, some with the slight distortion of color, have always piqued my interest. Just the look of those pictures tickles my nostalgic spot and makes me yearn for a camera that would replicate their look. I love those small, square photographs that have the narrow border running along them. The black and white ones that always seem to have a crease or wrinkle in them. The Polaroids with their glossy but mostly blurred image surrounded by white including that space at the bottom for a caption.
Of course, the images themselves, of our loved ones, places we’ve been, and things we’ve accomplished are the reasons we cherish these things, but the look of the older photographs do something more for me, they add the extra umph to enjoy the photographs and rocket the nostalgia straight off the charts.
As with most contemporary and modern devices and improvements, efficiency is a big part of newer cameras. You can take thousands of pictures, sort through them later, and then decide which ones to keep and which ones to delete, all without spending a dime. A few clicks on the camera or your computer and you can narrow them down to your favorite and best pictures. Then you can print them, and most of the time that doesn’t even happen. Most pictures are put up on a Facebook page or an online album.
While this is efficient and cost saving, it takes a lot of the fun out of cameras and pictures. Older cameras that required film made you think carefully about what you were taking a photograph of. You had to be more selective, they made it necessary to treasure each roll of film. Now you could spend your whole time at an event or on vacation taking pictures because, frankly, you can, if you have a big enough memory card. But in reality, you kind of are missing out, because you’re so busy filling your camera up with thousands of images that you will trash many of, while not focusing on the real life experience at hand.
With the older cameras, you captured a few moments to remember the experience, some key moments and other candid ones, then tucked it away in your pocket to fully immerse yourself in what was taking place. Then there was the act of taking the roll of film to be developed and the anticipation of getting it back. You never really knew how those pictures would turn out, and sometimes, in the time it took to develop and get them back, you may have even forgotten some that were taken. That was always the best part, an image being a surprise or eliciting an, “I’d forgotten this one!”
The feeling of treasuring each picture snapped and the deliberateness with which it was used was probably even more magnified with the cameras my grandparents used. Somehow, for me, I can see that deliberateness and coveting in many of the older photos. The photos were a big deal and were no simple undertaking. Whether they were snapshots or studio photographs, they seem to have a different feeling to them.
Then there is the physical sorting through pictures of the captured past that adds to that feeling in my nostalgic depths. The piles and stacks of the photos, touching each one, and the smell they hold. If they’re in a photo album, particularly the ones with the crinkly piece of plastic protecting the pages of pictures, you can turn each page seeing images huddled together, each a piece of a different story.
I personally prefer the black and white photos and the ones that seem to have a slight discoloration. Maybe it’s a combination of the camera used and the age of the image, but the colors are more enjoyable and usually make the picture stand out. They are more appealing to the eye, in my opinion.
As I have mentioned before, I prefer the slightly worn with some scratches and marks that holds a story to the pristine. Like the pops and snaps on a vinyl record, the color, specks, and lines on a photograph are its character, its unique fingerprint. They make it like no other picture, they speak to the story and the journey that picture has taken. Whether that journey was being printed on vacation and transported home or it sat in a box in a damp basement for years, the photograph is its own entity. It proclaims so much more than just faces or things printed on paper.
Honestly, I love looking at all photographs, even if they’re not of my relatives or ancestors. I have come upon many old photographs in my antique perusing, which always struck me as strange that someone’s personal pictures ended up in an antique store, but I find myself handling them and studying each image and the faces that are present. That may seem odd, but the photographs still have the look I love and hold a story that I am often curious about. A big part of it could be the era it was taken in. Clothes, hairstyles, cars, and the general environment in the picture captivate my senses. They could range from tidily coiffed hair, long dresses, and demure poses to bouffants, plaid pants, and hands gripping beers and all the in between, still capturing my imagination and my wonderment.
I have a Polaroid camera, one of those big clunky plastic beasts that flips open. It’s fun. It’s a bit awkward. And it spits out mostly blurred pictures. Polaroid cameras are great for a lot of different picture taking moments. They’re good for silly face pictures. Or catching someone off guard. Try using them for a Thelma and Louise moment right before taking off on your road trip. Okay, so maybe that’s not the best inspiration or replication when going on a road trip, but it was fun all the same. (And we took a different “Thelma and Louise photo” for each new state we crossed into.)
Of course, technology sort of solves the problem of the “too pristine” photo. There are apps for phones to become retro cameras. Most of them have multiple options on the type of camera you can use. Color, saturation, and contrast are readjusted, there is blur or specks added, and a frame or look of film are all features of these retro camera apps. I will admit I enjoy the one I have. It does exactly what it’s supposed to, and captures all the things I love about old photos. My personal favorite is the Little Orange Box camera option, which is the first three photos that follow.
My only problem with this way of replicating older photographs is if you want to print them. I could just be a stickler, but printing them out on regular printing paper would still make them too new. Not being able to duplicate that same feel of photo paper from back in the day might throw off the feel. Then again, like I said, I could just be a stickler, but I will say that apps such as these are fun to use and are the closest most of us can get to capturing that old time photo feel.
Somehow sorting through pictures on a computer screen just doesn’t seem as fun. Will future generations find anything inspiring in that process? Will they get a nostalgic feel of their grandparents images that way? Of course, by then, looking at photos on a computer or online will seem archaic. In the future, photographs will probably be projected onto walls, digitized in the air, or rendered in 3-D. The pictures I’m talking about in this post will probably seem like cave drawings to those newer generations. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy all the original older photos I’m privileged to be in possession of, and create new images with character with my very handy Retro Camera app.