Why I'm Still Using a Disposable Camera

Posted by Andrew Norbeck

Originality will always be part of the cutting-edge, but whatever happened to revitalizing an old and successful idea and incorporating it into another project? “I know it’s been done before, and yes, it’s not original” are my thoughts after sharing the project with my friends and family. But one of my favorite projects this past year was founding my own business to work alongside organizations needing video. Having recently graduated from college with a major in communications, I wanted to make an immediate impact in my field. I began by showing organizations how to utilize media to share their stories and reach a greater audience. The first venture was called Disposable San Diego.

Our project partnered with the San Diego nonprofit organization called Care House, which serves students who have been affected by homelessness. My friends and I gave disposable cameras to twelve of their students in hopes of empowering them to share their stories with the city of San Diego. Before giving out the cameras, we explained the many subjects and varied approaches of photography to the students. However, we soon realized the students (aging from 10-18) were more interested in our picture examples rather than the philosophy behind the medium. In the end, we asked the students to capture their day to day schedules including the people involved in their lives, their time spent at school, and their involvement in other activities within their communities.

After two weeks, we collected their disposable cameras and developed them. Instantly, we began choosing what we considered to be the best pictures. We looked past the ones with poor composition or exposure issues, and we considered tossing aside those featuring the accidental thumb in the picture. Eventually, we had narrowed it down to ten photographs. As we started sharing the project with our friends, they began finding pictures we missed and valued the ones we didn’t choose.  And when we showed the students their pictures for the first time, they chose their favorites from the experience, while each picture represented something much more meaningful to them. 

Today we have the ability to edit and delete pictures with modern digital photography, but with the disposable camera there is no editing. One disposable camera allows 27 pictures, so each and every snap must be worthy. It soon became clear to me that each of the students’ disposable camera pictures had to be included in the final project.  The students and their perspectives on life were significant no matter how their pictures turned out. Whether it was pictures depicting friends playing at recess, different forms of transportation needed to arrive school, or even the distinctive traditions and living situations of all their families, each student had a story to tell through their photographs.

Our final project consisted of over 300 pictures, with each student contributing 27 of their pictures. The piece exhibited at school and church events as well as the organization’s year-end dinner, until we eventually decided to return the students their work.

Though Disposable San Diego is now complete, I’ve been reflecting back on the project, especially on the ways in which I interact with photography. Most of my use of the medium comes in the form of the social network Instagram. It is here that I share my pictures from everyday life with my friends, family, and other enthusiasts. However, I’ve realized lately that all of them are edited in order to please others, rather than myself. My livelihood depends on how people perceive my life through these pictures.

This year, I am planning to transform my Instagram account.  I want to let go of the editing process by posting only disposable pictures. Each month, I will use one disposable camera then develop it digitally. Afterwards, I will begin uploading them to my Instagram feed in hopes of posting about one picture every day without excluding any from the roll of film captured.  If it all works out, at the end of the year I will have over 300 pictures similar to the students from Disposable San Diego.

If you want to contribute by using a disposable camera for a month or even see the pictures from the project please use #disposableonly on Instagram.