lomo fisheye collage by cheri lucas rowlands

Trashing Photography

On what’s lost when I shoot with an iPhone 

My process of taking photographs has changed. I don’t recall the last time I developed a roll of film and examined contact sheets, nor do I remember what it’s like to gaze at negatives: to consider the outtakes and alternate moments, and to appreciate the visual residue of an experience.

I’m not a professional photographer. When I shot with film, perhaps an eighth of my images were decent, and when I say decent I mean not blurry, which in no way means they were worth sharing. After developing a roll, I looked at my contact sheets and then shoved them in a binder, while the negatives faced a similar fate: I stuffed them in a box, forever locked in a timeless dark.

Perhaps it’s silly of me to feel nostalgic about my days with film, since all I really did was create waste: Evidence of my mediocrity. An archive of what-ifs, imperfections, and buried moments.

These days, I’ve recreated this very process with digital photographs. I snap numerous shots of something with my iPhone, then select The One from my Camera Roll to filter and share on Instagram, and then go through my library to delete the versions that weren’t good enough to share with the world.

Create. Curate. Discard.

But are these processes really the same? Is clicking the trash icon on my iPhone the same as tossing contact sheets in a shoebox? I think about the dusty negatives I’ve accumulated — tangible evidence of where I’ve been and how I’ve grown. Proof that I’ve tried. And then I think about the pictures I drag into the garbage can of the internet, and I wonder where these moments go. And if they happened.

The journey — the (mis)steps, the context, the process — seems less important now. Is it only the final product that matters?