Art and cities

Recyclable camera photography

Continuing our exploration of the world of toy and economy photography (see previous polaroid page), I was delighted to have the opportunity to do what all the adverts told me and get a recyclable camera for New Years Eve 1999. Recyclable cameras -- otherwise known as 'disposable' or 'single-use' or 'one-time-use' cameras -- are those ones you buy with a film built-in, and when you've taken the photos you hand the whole unit to your photo processor, who develops your pics and returns the camera to its maker for recycling (hopefully).

I remember when they first came out, in 1989 probably, and they reviewed one in Smash Hits. The photos were really foggy and rubbish, and the artistic potential didn't really strike me at the time.

For my Millennium Eve try-out, at Cream 2000 (big dance event in Liverpool), I really wanted to get the cheapest one possible, which was five pounds (eight US dollars) in Woolworths, but for some reason I didn't (I think I believed that it simply couldn't work at all if it was that cheap), so unfortunately I ended up getting a relatively-swanky Kodak one -- as pictured above -- for ten pounds at a petrol station, six hours before that much-hyped midnight. So here are four of the pictures, worst one first.

This is Orbital at five seconds to midnight. You can see some big number fives if you look, er, closely. But obviously it is a crap photo and this is exactly what you expect a photo from a ten pound camera to look like. (As with all these, in fact, I've digitally tweaked it and the original was worse than this).
This is another of the rubbish kind of photo you expect to get out of a throwaway camera. It's a self-portrait probably. And it's earlier. You don't get trees at Cream obviously.
But look at this glorious image of Liverpool's finest chip chefs. I thought this was quite good really. A £200 camera would take the same photo under these circumstances.
And look at this fine portrait photography. Well-known club promoter Charles Cheung looks pleased with his event.

More information on recyclable cameras
by Terry Prendergast

The following is an extract from a draft PhD text by Terry Prendergast, University of Leeds, UK...

It is difficult to obtain any accurate figures regarding the extent and breadth of [photography] because each manufacturer is conscious of the commercial confidentiality of such information. Research has however revealed some relevant data: Agfa Market Research published that in 1997 that the worldwide camera stock stood at 630 million cameras, and 2.8 billion films were exposed (details here). The 1999 Kodak Annual Report indicates that the film stock figure had risen to 3 billion rolls of film representing 80 billion exposures. The Agfa research also divided the market of photographic equipment into sectors as shown below: -

Professional Photography: 1%
Reflex Camera Owners (Demanding amateurs): 15%
Recreational Photography: 58%
Disposable Cameras: 20%

A final addition to the family of cameras, now representing 20% of the market, was introduced by Fuji in 1986 and is now known as the "Single Use Camera". Initially named the disposable camera and "The Fling" when introduced by Kodak in 1987, it was a reversion to the idea behind the original Eastman of 1888. The camera is bought pre-loaded with film and the returned to a processor for the prints to be produced. The original name of "disposable" was factually correct because the processor literally threw them away after use.

The cameras were again designed around the new technologies and incorporated specific features for particular needs. Thus the range includes underwater and panoramic cameras as well as the normal use design. It would be quite wrong to dismiss these products as being outside the serious study of photography. They provide important pointers both to how the photographic industry reacts to the wider world and how society adapts technologies to meet particular needs often never initially envisaged.

From its introduction sales of the product soared but with it the objections of environmental groups who saw the product as "ecologically offensive". The adverse publicity was such that manufacturers began to examine the reuse of components. As an example Kodak began this process in 1990, and by redesigning the product and setting up centers they are now recycling more than 70% in the United States and 60% worldwide. This compares with the recycling of aluminum cans, which was 66.5% in the United States in 1997. The scale of the operation is huge with over two million cameras recycled since the program started (see "A Tale of Environmental Stewardship: the Single-Use Camera").

These single use cameras provide an interesting example of how society adopts some technologies and through usage makes it part of the wider rituals of our culture. In recent times these cameras have begun to appear on the table at wedding receptions. The guests are instructed to take photographs of each other during the reception and the following disco. The cameras are returned, processed and become an alternative wedding album showing guests enjoying the wedding. In the United Kingdom this custom has grown within the last two years and is fast becoming the norm as word of this use spreads. It could possibly have arrived from the USA where Kodak market a "Wedding Box" that contains five cameras with printed instructions for the guests.

Some disposable photography links

Here's a few links, though unfortunately there's so many websites just trying to sell cameras that I found it quite hard to find more interesting pages.
(Please e-mail me with any suggestions!).

Kodak have a Frequently Asked Questions page about their 'one time use' cameras. Meanwhile Konika have a Shockwave animation showing the inside of a single-use camera.

This is an interesting one: For the Inside Out project, 40 disposable cameras were given to homeless people in Budapest. Each participant was asked to take pictures of whatever they felt to be interesting or important in their everyday experience and later interviewed about the results.

This is good too: In the Pass the Camera project, a disposable camera was sent from person to person and they each take one photo. See the page for details.

A man called David Richman took these Marathon Photos with a disposable camera while running the New York marathon in 1998.

There's a website called Crap Pictures - not necessarily, but often, taken on recycleable cameras.

There is not even a soul, black-and-white photographs taken with a single use camera by Yorgos Kousagiannidis.

Finally, a scary place called Seacoast New Hampshire (USA) has several disposable camera tours of this small town.