Move aside smartphones. Some students are choosing to go back in time over the immediacy of digital images and social media.
By Natalie Heller ’23
Since her first year at Geneseo, Naomi Steinberg ’23 has pinned photos of favorite memories to her wall — bid day with her sorority, parties, family ski trips to Vermont, and everyday special moments.
She takes them with a camera often last used in the 1990s.
“Using a disposable camera is exciting because you don’t really know what you’re getting back,” says Steinberg.
The simplicity of a cardboard disposable, loaded with 35mm film, is why it’s made a comeback. Their limited number of shots — and no options for editing on the spot — is the attraction. Old school photo taking with film eliminates pressure to create the perfect picture.
“Since I’ve only ever used a digital camera,” says Steinberg, “I am used to trying to take the best photo possible with multiple options to choose from. With the disposable, I can just focus on capturing the memory without being concerned about how I look.”
Like other Geneseo students who have taken to disposables, tangible prints as keepsakes is also a draw. Streinberg is a fan of the Fujifilm Quicksnap. It costs about $15 to purchase and about the same amount to develop its 27 exposures.
“I love having physical copies of my photos,” says Steinberg. “A lot of my photos are taped to the wall of my room with the date they were taken written on them. It’s a daily reminder of the fun things I’ve done with my best friends.”
Some students take one picture on the disposable, and then take the same photo on their smartphone. That impulse to take a backup photo demonstrates how a number of students have one foot each in the digital and disposable worlds. An app called Dispo allows people to take photos in the style of disposable cameras, and in an effort to replicate the disposable camera experience, does not allow them to view the photo for 23 hours after it was taken. Some students who don’t care about receiving physical copies of the photos use this app, including Anthony Sterbens ’24.
“Dispo gives the photos a more fun and authentic feel compared to regular photos,” says Sterbens. “We can relate to our parents’ photos from when they were our age as disposables create a vintage aesthetic.”
Students and organizations have created Instagram accounts specifically for posting their disposable photos. Film processors also give out Archival Photo CDs with their hard-copy prints, so Steinberg and Sterbens have the photos in digital form to post online. Celebrities have Instagram accounts for their photos, too, including Gen Z influencer David Dobrik, who has 2.4 million followers. Disposable photos are also popular on TikTok. A search for the hashtag “disposable camera,” turns up 435 million views of videos that include this hashtag.
Kristi Lee Streamer ’91 was at Geneseo when everyone used film and disposable cameras. There were no smartphones. She has kept her photos from Geneseo in scrapbooks and in boxes.
“My friends and I used them all the time, at parties, bars, and in our dorms,” she says. “If you lost it, you would be sad about losing the photos and memories, but you didn’t lose a real and expensive camera as they were easily replaceable.”
There was a stretch of time, Streamer says, that disposables were at every wedding she ever attended, so guests could capture their own candid moments.
The surprise, like now, was part of why it was popular.
“The fun,” Streamer says, “was not knowing exactly how the photos would look until you picked them up!”
From our writer, Natalie Heller ’23, an disposable camera aficionado:
“I try to spread the photos out across events that I think are important throughout the semester and develop them to reminisce about my favorite moments. As a senior, I love looking back on some of the great times I have had throughout my college career. I started a scrapbook in my sophomore year, containing both disposable camera prints and photos captured on my iPhone, that highlight special moments.”