The man at CVS slid a yellow cardboard envelope across the counter. “Here are your photos. That’ll be $6.51.” I stared at the package. I always developed pictures in high school; why was I so wary to look at these ones? Shouldn’t I be itching to upload them in the hopes of a new profile picture, or something?
I had purchased the black and yellow Kodak camera at the beginning of break with the intent of filling its 27 exposures with “memorable moments.” This winter break was the first time I would be able to see all of my high school friends who had since scattered across the country. Clutching the camera in the pharmacy checkout line, I pictured the inevitable encounters it would immortalize: a skyline from someone’s roof, a hugging gaggle of girls, a candid of someone eating at those over-priced diners we used to frequent.
At home I had unintentionally slept past noon most days, then groggily combed my hair with my mother’s hairbrush before speeding to the city for yet another lunch date. The meals blended together: asking about university courses over coffee, hearing about a slew of college boys whose romantic abilities seemed firmly placed in middle school while munching on “breakfast for dinner” omelettes, exclaiming for the umpteenth time the utter necessity of visiting each others’ schools over a little illicit wine. Upon each meeting, I would at some point reveal the camera and awkwardly insist on a photo, to which my fellow diners would acquiesce.
With my closest friends, however, the camera had seldom left my bag, its exposure count stagnant. After spending multiple days with my best friend Natalie (who happens to share my love of disposable cameras), I remembered to snap only a silly image of her sitting on the floor. While bumming around with a few good guy friends, laughing about parties and people past, capturing a picture of our time together never crossed my mind. I didn’t need to catch up with my closest friends. I received regular complaints about the nastiness of the pizza at their colleges and the surprisingly tasty desserts that sent them running to the gym; updates pertaining to romance were equally unnecessary, given the frequency of mutual consolation over late night calls and texts throughout the year.
While at a New Year’s Eve get-together, a friend clicked the shutter and informed me that the camera had taken its 27th and final photo. As we all counted down the seconds to 2013, I pondered the camera and its contents. Most of the pictures featured people I was fond of, but didn’t keep up with when we were away at school. Would I still know the people in the coming year? Two years? Ten? What would happen to these friends? Would I be desperately taking photos of them five New Year’s Eves from now?
“Miss? It’s $6.51.” I snapped back to the CVS counter, paid, and left. When I got home and eagerly pulled the pictures out of my bag, I was surprised at how normal they looked. They were, after all, just some shots of people whom I had laughed and cried with during high school, but who I was slowly replacing with others while away at college. I giggled to myself, suddenly unsure as to why I had placed so much salience on 27 poor-quality shots.
Yet over the next few days, I found myself flipping through the photos multiple times. As exciting as it had been to leave for another state, a new school, and a different life, my need to document life back at home helped me to reconcile these binary worlds, new and old. The over-exposed, washed out, and red-eyed images would help remind me that I still had a life back in New York—one that had existed for 18 years before my new college world began. I will always be able to reminisce about these New York days when college’s sensory overload feels like too much to bear.
I’ll probably continue to buy more disposable cameras, even if my friends laugh (as they are prone to) at my reliance on dinosaur technology. There is a reason our grandmas like to pull out those tiny wallet photos and show off pictures of their grandchildren. Photographs are nice.