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  • Lee-Anne Carter

The new app Dispo is about more than making images, it's about letting go.

Updated: Aug 24

I recently read an article in the New York Times about an app - Dispo - based around the disposable camera. Remember those?


Yes, nostalgia - or newstalgia - in cool trend terms, is well and truly back.


Dispo was concocted by You Tube star, David Dobrik, and works on a feeling of well, let’s say restraint. Basically, you frame your photo through a small rectangular viewfinder in the app, there are no editing tools, and the images then take until 9am the next day to “develop”. You get what you have shot - blurred, wrong framing, wrong light - or perfect - it just is what it is.


And that, my friends, is a trip straight down memory lane, back to a time when you took a roll of shots, unwound the film and took it to a shop (a physical store - remember those!) for developing. You would usually be told what time and which day your photos would be ready, and then you would return at the allocated date to pick them up. The shop assistant rifling through a range of paper envelopes until they found your name. You’d pay them for the service, and carry out your paper envelope with negs (negatives for those not in the know) nestled in the front in case you wanted more copies. Your roll of 12 or 24 photos transformed into images on shiny paper (matt became an option - another nostalgia riff - for the cool kids later).


Ahhhhhh – the good old days.


Reminiscing about this, got me to thinking about why our sense of nostalgia is so prevalent right now, and why so many products are being created with nostalgia in mind.


I have discoursed on the presence and return to nostalgic elements ad nauseum in many trend reports and presentations, way before the pandemic. But, as I wrote recently in another article, the change in mindset wrought about by the perfect storm that is/was Covid19 and the accelerating shifts in our mindset means that many of these shifts are set to be permanent, and nostalgia has been a constant for quite some time now. And escalating.


What Dispo actually taps into is what has been termed “the reminiscence bump” by psychologists - the use of nostalgia to ground us when we appear to be losing perception of time. Which of course is/ was one of the biggest repercussions from Covid and long stretches of isolation.


Post Covid, the reminiscence bump and a sense of nostalgia will remain a key defining factor for many ventures, brands and products.


And there you were thinking you were just letting yourself get a little lost in time.


But, when I read further as to why Dispo is so appealing to a younger consumer cohort who, let’s face it, aren’t exactly well-versed in the concept of disposable cameras or patience, there was also mention of the incessant chatter that is Clubhouse - the article’s words not mine - and how literally more “noise” is just not on point (although that doesn’t seem to be stopping Clubhouse currently). Dispo is being lauded for its restraint (there’s that word again), less noise, less acceleration, actually a complete deceleration - riffing on the waiting, the anticipation, the end surprise - all things we as human beings generally covet.


Dispo embraces the actuality. A rendering of what is - how it actually appeared in that moment - and therein lies the appeal. The acknowledgment that we do not live in a perfect world - or the need to acknowledge this - is almost at tipping point. I have written many times about social anxiety media and what this is doing to us, the rise in depression correlated to the need to live up to a perfect existence, which ironically only exists in pictures that have been manipulated to convey it.


What a strange world we live in.


But it got me to thinking. There was a time when disposable cameras were a standard bonbonierre at weddings, placed near the name card of each guest at the table setting, with a little note attached (naturally colour-coordinated to the wedding hues) urging the new owner to take candid shots throughout the night. I personally loved this, as you were guaranteed to get not only some brilliantly candid photo, but it also meant the bride and groom could see what was going on behind the scenes - once the images were developed of course. Not like the official, usually incredibly staged and, to my mind, completely surreal images lensed by many a wedding photographer. In short, they kept it real.


In the article much was being made in regard to the integrity of the shots, and it transported me back to my time as a Creative Director on magazines, before digital was even born. When we used to run print and neg film. An on-set lighting check would involve taking a polaroid and waiting for the developing time before anything could be moved - lights or props - the longest two minutes ever! I distinctly remember the start of digital, and the dearth of photographers that popped up seemingly overnight, as well as my disdain. Most of them could not light to the exciting standards I was used to with film photographers, film is absolutely unforgiving, and very early on it appeared to be all about post-production. I remember when canvasing for new photographers (of course I had my stable of favourites, absolute geniuses to this day), asking if they could light on film if needed, just to sort the wheat from the chafe kind of thing.


And now, it appears we are back – if not full circle, pretty close.


What Dispo - and all of these trends - really stand for though is not simply a nostalgic trip down memory lane, it is the authenticity of being human. Of keeping it real. Dispo is bringing back into scope the perfect imperfections of life, and allowing us to own them. It is highlighting the normal, the wrong, the good, the bad, the ugly - the absolute intrinsic beauty of life in all of its guises that we have for far too many years photoshopped out of existence. It is offering us our raw selves back, and not before time.


Dispo’s tag line is - Live in the Moment (ironic for an app that takes it cue from the past), but it is bang on trend for how people want to live now.


As Goldie Chan (founder of Warm Robots) in the New York Times article states: “When you have something like Dispo or VSCO, you’re just taking pictures. You can snap a moment in time and let it go.”


Dispo is making us deal with - it just is what it is - with no ability to manipulate reality.


And there is true freedom in that.


If it comes packaged in a technologically derived app, then so be it.


As long as it returns.


Long live letting go – and Dispo. I say.


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