Film Cameras Help Young People Act On Nostalgia For A Time They Never Knew

Some young people are trying their hand at photography with old-fashioned film cameras. Urban Outfitters sells several kinds of mechanical cameras. Some like the surprise of not knowing until some time after the pictures are snapped to discover what's on the roll. Audie Cornish asks listeners to send in stories about the sounds older technologies made that they now miss.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, with all the attention at South by Southwest about latest tech advances, there are some people headed in the other direction. Some shutterbugs want to go beyond Instagram, the app that gives photos that old-fashioned look. For them, retro means using film to shoot pictures the old way.

And NPR's Art Silverman ponders this reverse flow of technology.

ART SILVERMAN, BYLINE: I wouldn't call it a trend, more like a reverse current, an eddy in a fast moving stream. But it's happening all over the world.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I love the whole process of shooting on film.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Film is natural and unpredictable.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I like shooting film because it's an experience. Then there's that excitement of wanting to finish up the film as fast as possible because I was dying to see the results.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: I like the hands-on approach to film photography.

SILVERMAN: Those women you heard are from Malaysia, Philippines, Germany, Borneo and Massachusetts. They're all members of a photography collective called Cool Girls Shoot Film. It's a clique that clicks with real shutters and real film. Those of us who spent years inhaling darkroom fumes find this kind of perverse, but there's no denying it's happening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SILVERMAN: And it's happening here at an Urban Outfitters in downtown Washington, D.C. Alongside all the rest of the hipster gear, there's a collection of cheap film cameras.

Housewares manager George Hernandez says the popularity is not a case of nostalgia.

GEORGE HERNANDEZ: It's typically most of the younger kids. Like, our demographics is, you know, 18 to 28. This one is actually a La Sardina camera from Lomography. It's a basic 35-millimeter camera. We have the film that goes with it.

SILVERMAN: How much will this cost me and...

HERNANDEZ: This one is actually on sale for 29.99.

SILVERMAN: One of those film cameras is made by an Austrian company called Lomography. It took its name from a vintage camera from the Soviet Union. Liad Cohen is in charge of U.S. operations for the company. He explains why there's a backlash against digital photography.

LIAD COHEN: There is a certain process to analog that is really exciting. You know, people take pictures and then they have these rolls of films, and they drop them off at the lab, and then they wait a day or two days or a week or a month - or however long it takes them to get back to the lab - to retrieve these photos. And during that time, they've changed. They approach the photos as when they get them back in a whole new way.

SILVERMAN: Now, we're at Penn Camera in Washington. If you shoot on film and don't have your own darkroom, this is the kind of place where you have to bring your exposed film to be developed.

Lawyer Catherine Tai(ph) is here today to collect a roll she shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Prints back?

CATHERINE TAI: Yeah.

SILVERMAN: She shot a roll of 36 exposures.

TAI: I don't know if any of these came out. Oh, that's interesting.

SILVERMAN: About 30 looked OK. But what's important to her is not perfection but surprise.

TAI: It doesn't seem to make sense because the digital technology is so fast and so good now.

SILVERMAN: Or maybe too good. The joy of film to people like Catherine Tai lies in the suspense between the snapping and the moment you see the results.

TAI: When, you know, you've dropped off that roll, you have no idea what's on it. You have all these hopes of, you know, having captured just the right moment. And sometimes they're very disappointing, what you get back. And sometimes it's like a miracle. You discover it's even better than you remembered.

SILVERMAN: Or far worse than you can imagine. But I suppose in a world becoming more predictable, people may want the possibility of failure.

Art Silverman, NPR News.

CORNISH: Another thing about film cameras: They make sounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMERA SHUTTER CLICKING)

CORNISH: If you grew up listening to shutters clicking, film rolls advancing, backs of cameras closing, you might have vivid memories of those and other sounds connected with older technology that you don't often hear these days.

We invite you to tell us your own story about sounds associated with tech that's gone and you miss. Go to npr.org and click on Contact Us, put vintage sound in the subject line.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KODACHROME")

PAUL SIMON: (Singing) ...Nikon camera. I love to take a photograph. So, Mama, don't take my Kodachrome away.

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