I was about to begin by asking “Does anyone remember disposable cameras?” But then I did a search for “disposable” or “one-use” film cameras and saw, to my mild surprise, that such items were still available!
I say “mild” surprise in light of the fact that film is, after all, being discovered by a new generation, who came to photography well into the digital age.
Or might it also be that vacationers with expensive i-thingies are just as concerned about the ravages of sand, salt water, ketchup, and French fries as I am when it comes to my “camera-cameras”…the kind that don’t receive robo-calls or get texted upon in deplorable corruptions of the English language.
I’ve recently been enjoying the process of rediscovering years of enjoyable moments of photography, while scanning such film images into my image bank. This enjoyable search — sometimes completely at random to keep it fun — turned up a set of negatives from a sojourn along Delaware’s Atlantic coast in the early ’90s, during which I’d played around in the surf with one of Kodak’s disposable water-resistant cameras.
One of the images, despite its technical limitations, captured such a summer-joyful moment, I just had to share it and, in the process, write a story about what I thought at the time was a curious “relic of the film age.”
Here’s the story. If you like, you can also listen to an audio version.
Love on a Beach…
I own many cameras, and I’ve never had occasion to question the simple veracity of this maxim: The very best camera in the world is the one you have in your hand when a special moment happens.
Notwithstanding its obvious technical limitations, I’ve always been very fond of this particular photographic moment for its spontaneity, unequivocal joy, and love.
I can not imagine anyone enjoying a beach as much as this happy little girl and her father were at the moment I shot this image!
I’ve always been reluctant about taking along the “serious” cameras when planning to spend some hours lying in the sand of an ocean beach. Just too easy for an unintended dollop of suntan lotion, a surfeit of salt air, or the errant grain of sand to mess with the internals or turn a prime lens into a paperweight…
Back in 1990, when this moment was captured on the Atlantic seashore along the Delaware coast, when the ubiquitous camera phone was only a mad scientist’s dream, Kodak and other film manufacturers offered fun little disposable cameras with vacation-y names for just such needs, and I thought it might be prudent to purchase one and not worry about my “real” cameras on this July day.
The “Stretch 35” was part of Kodak’s “Fling 35” series (as I said, vacation-y!). It was casually waterproof. By that I mean I don’t think Kodak was promoting it for casual scuba diving photographers, but I knew it’d be OK to carry it into the surf.
Of course, by any conceptual measure, the “Stretch 35” was a “real” camera — a light-tight box with a lens on the front by which, through the intervention of a wee shutter, a happy scene can light-paint itself on a piece of film. In this case, the lens was a (need I say!) basic 25 mm, and the camera featured a “panoramic” format, by virtue of exposing 12 “letter-box” slices of the Kodak Gold-200 film inside. The idea was your mini lab would print out your vacation-flingy fun on prints that were 10 inches wide (instead of 5). At that size, the photos were about sharp enough…Heck, we’re talking vacation-fling memories, here, not gallery size enlargements. Oops, guess I should add to that analogy 23-inch monitors.
But really, for me this little love-moment overcomes its technical limitations, and I hope it brings a smile.
If you took your first picture with a smart phone, this will sound very quaint; but once the twelve “panoramic” frames were shot, one did not worry about such things as rewinding and unloading the film, but simply took the whole “package,” sandy and slick with suntan oil though it may have become, to a one-hour lab, where it was opened up and the film loaded into the processing machine. What was left was, presumably, “re-cycled.”
Thus, a “one-use” or “disposable” camera could be a pretty practical alternative, where sand and suntan oil, to say nothing of ketchup and French fries, might wreak havoc with traditional gear. It removed any degree of camera-angst from a day of taking in the rays and wading into countless gallons of saltwater, leaving as the only angst: “Have I slathered on sufficient UV protection to keep from looking and feeling like a broiled lobster while dining that evening on, mmm, broiled lobster?”
About the Author
Steve Ember is a photographer of both film and digital, voice actor and writer. You can find out more about Steve on his website, and follow his work at 500px. This article was also published here, and shared with permission.