Love it or hate it, the ’90s are making a comeback. A wave of pre–Y2K nostalgia has had people everywhere breaking out their bucket hats, stocking up on spaghetti straps, and donning their tiniest pair of sunglasses.
But if there’s one staple of ’90s culture that seems to have caught the public’s attention as of late, it’s the disposable camera. It may be 2021, but a flashy Kodak FunSaver is arguably the hottest accessory to have on you at any function. Film photos are sure to add some spice to any Instagram feed, and people have started to take notice.
Everyone from your high school best friend to A–list celebrities seems to have an entire Instagram page dedicated to their film photography linked in their bio. The hashtag #filmphotography has garnered over 208 million views on TikTok, with thousands of users taking to the platform to show off their trendiest dispos.
But why the sudden urge to go back—or, more accurately, throwback—to disposable cameras? What purpose do they serve in the era of the iPhone, where you can snap 27 photos in seconds?
For starters, disposable cameras capitalize on the nostalgia that defines our generation’s popular culture. We look to the style of characters in Friends for fashion inspiration, buy vinyl when we have Spotify at our disposal, and channel our favorite ’90s icons at every throwback–themed party. It should come as no surprise that disposable cameras are flying off the shelves of every drugstore. And in an effort to increase the sustainability of the disposable movement, a number of reloadable simple use film cameras have popped up on the market, putting a new, environmentally friendly spin on the classic trend.
The warm tones, vibrant colors, and grainy quality of film photos are reminiscent of pictures you can only find on the pages of an old family photo album. The act of holding a camera, lining up the shot in the viewfinder, and hearing the click of the shutter makes you feel as if you’ve taken a trip to a simpler time, one before the advent of digital photography and editing apps.
With only 27 exposures, each picture taken on a disposable camera seems to carry more sentimental value than digital photography, as it is a tangible pause in time. There are no redos when someone blinks or wants to fix their hair. You can capture your friends in their most candid moments, free from the pressure to get the perfect shot.
And for many, not knowing how the photos will turn out is the best part of breaking out the single–use camera. In a world where technology gives us instantaneous gratification and access to almost everything, the anticipation that comes with developing film can be a warm, exciting feeling. Seeing your photos for the first time, especially ones that you may not even remember taking, allows you to relive every memory—no matter how long it’s been since you first photographed it.
What purpose do disposable cameras serve in the era of the iPhone? They’re a comforting vestige of the past in our ever–changing world and a novel way to capture special moments. We may not be able to travel back in time, but we can buy a disposable camera to watch our memories materialize on a roll of film.