Indisposable Memories

Kosciuszko National Park, Australia

April 2007

I usually think of myself as a child of the digital age. There are moments, though, when I think back and realise that I wasn’t always the digital native that I feel I ought to be. I remember the joy of analogue, especially film photography, taking your photos to be developed and wondering how they’d turn out… 

When I was in high school our whole year group went away on camp once every year. We’d spend a week in the bush – hiking, sleeping in tents, cooking our meals over little camp stoves and becoming closer to each other, friendship-wise and occasionally, when it was cold at night, physically, than we ever expected. Every year I took a little disposable camera with me – a ‘real’ camera (a digital one) might have got damaged – and every year I took a few mediocre photos of my friends, being serious or being silly, and the glorious bush we found ourselves surrounded by for one week per year.

I found some of those photos today. Their disposable-camera origins gave them a feeling of solidity. There were no copies floating around in the cloud, just those I held in my hands. The warm glow of the sun in one, the blue-tinged shadows of another reminded me of Instagram filters – even the way we think about photography now seems so different to back then, though it was less than ten years ago.

I remembered how that year at camp we had packed all of our gear into backpacks lined with plastic bags for waterproofing, then put everything into canoes and paddled off across the dam to our first campsite. The branches of long-dead trees loomed out of the water near the shore, a reminder that what was now a dam that supplied water to thousands of people was once a valley full of plants and animals. They were all submerged now.

I remember that two of my friends and I (accidentally) pitched our tent on a slight hill that night. We spent the whole night sliding further and further down into our sleeping bags until we woke up in the morning in a clump at the bottom of the tent. In the early morning light a thick mist wreathed the ghostly arms of the trees reaching up from the water until the sun came out and drove it away.

Somehow that little disposable camera captured the spirit of that place in a way my modern digital camera never could. Perhaps digital doesn’t belong in the bush. Perhaps analogue and distant memory go hand in hand.

I feel that one has to be very lucky to get good photos on a disposable camera – you can’t waste the film, so you get only one chance. Looking back at those photos, though, it seems that luck was in my favour.

Evening on the dam

Campfire

Trees in the mist

When the sun came out

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