fragile objects in unstable settings

Although I had yet to realise the precise nature of the framework that would structure the next evolution of the game, I was becoming increasingly aware that its methods would involve walking and photography. This felt right; not since the matchsticks had I experienced such certainty.

Perhaps this certainty made room for new ideas to bubble up; to slip in from the periphery while I was consciously attending to other things. For here a mundane digression into practicalities would lead me to discover my elusive frame.    

The situation was straightforward: I needed camera gear that was better suited to the project. I owned a DSLR, big and heavy and touristy; a digital point and shoot, small and light and yet somehow even more touristy; and an expensive new mobile phone with a camera that outperformed them both. The phone was the obvious winner, but its sleek, fragile form was too modern for its own good. Every time I took a photo while out walking I had visions of it slipping from my hands and smashing to the ground. So I went looking for a phone case with a better grip. Wistfully I imagined a case shaped like a vintage camera, and began searching online for this invented object of desire. Alas, I found nothing in the shape of a nice old Pentax that could offer safe passage to my frail device — it would be another year or so before pop culture and consumer electronics fully converged on this aesthetic. But in my searching I did find something else: a new breed of photography gadgets that seemed to be gaining popularity, best described as mobile-instant hybrids. These devices included a case that turned a phone into an instant camera by bolting on a tiny printer; a phone that was an instant camera, with the printer built right in; and several models of stand-alone portable printers, designed to network with a mobile phone. Some of the devices had a deliberately retro design, and were clearly following Instagram’s nostalgia aesthetic to the logical conclusion of a print revival. T1 With on-demand printing of limitless, previewable copies, this revival was obviously a modern take on the instant photo. But I also discovered a surprising number of new cameras that were using traditional Polaroid-style film. One moment, one blind chance, one print the only artefact of a collaboration between photographer and world.

T1:Anthropologist Gil Bartholeyns attributes the rise of Instagram and similar mobile phone applications to the increasingly ‘cold and disembodied’ (2014, p. 51) feel of digital photography and the resurrection of analogue cameras that eventuated from this dehumanising trend. ‘Analogue photography was expensive and its results were uncertain,’ Bartholeyns writes, ‘yet they had the advantage of being ‘alive’. There was greater nostalgia for the warmth of these renderings than for the people and things they depicted, and it was this that caused the birth of the lo-fi photography movement’ (ibid.). But digital photography was not about to see itself eclipsed by this revival. ‘Having achieved optical perfection, it could now simulate photographic imperfection,’ Bartholeyns notes (ibid.). ‘And so, in 2009 and 2010, a series of mobile phone applications began offering to simulate the square-format photos of the old Brownie, the warm colours of the Polaroid and all the delightful imperfections of family photography in the 1960s–1980s, such as vignetting and over-exposure. The pretence went as far as reflecting the physical nature of prints, reproducing the ravages of time, such as desaturation and scratching. Indeed, to take up the slogan of Hipstamatic, one of the key apps on the market, “digital photography never looked so analogue”.’

I was intrigued, but I had other work to do as well. My plan for the evening was to review some project notes I’d made the year before. As I sifted through those old impressions and ideas, certain phrases drew my thoughts continually back to the present. Or rather, to the instant.

fragile objects in unstable settings

working intuitively; responding to the moment

leaving a deliberate trace; visible and invisible layers of the city

nothing lasts forever

By the time I went to bed I had made a decision: I was going to buy a new camera. And I knew exactly what I wanted: a Fujifilm Instax 90. It was a Polaroid-style instant with an unusual feature: a double exposure mode. The camera that remembers everything.

The next day I tracked one down; it was the last in stock locally. The film was sold out everywhere. I ordered some online, and waited for it to arrive.

While I waited, I thought idly about how I might use the Instax. About that alluring double exposure mode. A glimpse of landscapes; layered over, layered under. A feeling of compression in my chest.

I reached for my sketchbook — I had found my frame. Though I could hardly imagine that it would feel much like a game.