Recently I was cleaning out my supply closet (there have been a lot of snow days) and found an undeveloped disposable camera. This discovery was particularly mysterious because I can't actually remember the last time I used one of those things. I normally have intense, long-term monogamous relationships with fancy cameras, playing with lens and light and composition as my mother and grandfather taught me to do. The only period of my life where I used disposables with any regularity was in high school to take hundreds of upon hundreds of photographs of my friends and I goofing around making cupcakes, or taking our first train to New York, or headed to the shore on senior cut day. In my mind, disposables are associated with both recklessness and babysitting money, which I would lay out on the CVS counter while picking up my prints (with doubles, of course, to dole out to whatever friend I'd slung my arm around while holding the camera in front of us). Disposables also, almost always, took on a distinct sense of mystery as you worked your way down through the roll. Anyone who has carried a disposable camera around in their bag must remember looking down at those tiny, descending numbers thinking what in god's name is on the beginning of this roll? or, at a wedding, who grabbed this off the table before me? At weddings I always liked picking up the cameras and taking pictures of people I didn't even know, thereby injecting a little extra mystery into the proceedings (who took this? the couple would say to each other as they went through the endless shots of centerpieces and bad dancing). In short, the disposable camera was antithetical to the general advancement of technology-- less instant than Polaroids, lower quality than pretty much any other camera on the market, and not valuable in any way outside of its brief life recording things not important enough for a real camera.
So, as you can imagine, I was quite curious to see what was on this camera. I was fairly certain I'd taken it home from a wedding. For this reason, I dawdled on getting it developed-- because last year I knew a few couples who'd gotten divorced. The pictures might have been a portal to happier times. If that was true, then it would be a new moment, a new memory, to reconsider, a brand new expression of love that would be immediately shattered. No thank you.
But lately I have been on a mission to accomplish everything within my home-- to finish everything unfinished, to confront everything I have delayed. I have been dashing through half-finished books and repairing broken jewelry; I have recycled receipts and hung pictures; I have returned letters and put things up for auction on ebay. The camera had to be developed if my project was to be complete.
I took it down to the local camera shop a block away (how did it take me three years to find the best local business in Hartford?) and one day later, at the end of a very bad day, I had this:
Greg and I went on a camping trip in 2004-- yes, seven years ago-- and apparently, due to what I can only guess was a practical protection of our real cameras-- brought a disposable. You, dear reader, do not have to be polite. The pictures are absolutely awful. And I love them. Here's why.
Everything has changed since we took these pictures. They are dingy, the light is awful. We only took one picture of each thing, and half of them are of nondescript bodies of water or bushes or views. We took a few photos of each other, looking tired and drenched (it rained the entire time), and not a single photo together. Clearly we pulled out the camera randomly. It appears there is no more than a photo or two per day. Clearly I forgot about the pictures altogether. It also looks like Greg took the camera home and finished off the last six pictures at various intervals over the course of several months, based on the scenes and the tans of his subjects. Almost every single picture has the stunning lighting and compositional elements of this one:
I love these pictures because I've forgotten that pictures didn't always look like an advertisement for my own life. They used to look like my actual memories, sloppy and weird and halfway done. I also love that one of us carried it around for the past seven years as the two of us traveled around the world separately, meaning to get it developed.
And with this disposable I have remembered the ecstasy of delay. Had I developed these right away, I probably would have thrown half of them out. Had I taken these photos with a digital camera, I more than likely would have deleted most of them within twenty seconds of taking them. I would have tossed out the imperfections of my own life.
I should say here that this camping trip is, was, will always be one of the highlights of my partnership with Greg. We were drenched and scared of woodsy noises. We were exhausted the entire time. I vacillated between complaint and bullying. Greg got a tick that I had to pull out. I couldn't sleep because the inside of the tent got wet, including my sleeping bag, pajamas, and shoes. And we both found all of this hilarious. I couldn't be happier that these pictures are as random as that trip, and have reminded me, in both form and content, of that ordinary little vacation just as we were falling in love.
I hope the rest of my home yields such funny mysteries.