SAN FRANCISCO–Carolyn LaHorgue might seem like the type of teenager who would embrace digital technology. She designed her own Web site, is a Facebook aficionado, and is planning to study media and communications at New York University this fall.
Yet the 17-year-old, who lives just north of San Francisco, totes around an artifact right out of the 19th century: an analog camera that uses actual film. “It represents the individualist lifestyle,” LaHorgue says.
LaHorgue is not alone. Teenagers are leading a kind of backward transition, leaving digital devices behind, at least temporarily, for technology their grandparents pioneered.
Classic film cameras, such as Holga, Diana, Minolta, and Nikon, are being chosen over smaller-than-your-fist digital point-and-shoots on the theory that it’s cool to struggle with manual aperture settings. Or it’s rebellious to scope out the best lighting for a shot.
A popular clothing chain among teenagers, Urban Outfitters, has picked up on the trend and now offers more than 60 product combinations relating to cameras, which are overwhelmingly film-based.
“Everyone has a fascination with the past,” says Alana Shaw, 18, of San Francisco, who has been accepted at Bard College, adding that her peers “are reverting back to more vintage technologies as a way to express their personal taste.”
Film cameras live on among urban hipsters (photos)
“Digital photography allows for no mistakes by the camera,” Shaw says. “The picture is flawless, and you are the only one to blame for its apparent ugliness. But with film, you never really know what’s going to happen. It’s a surprise every time you develop and print your film. Sometimes there can be weird color granulations, random light splotches or double exposures.”
Though the trend has been building for several years, it’s now hitting its stride. While total sales of film cameras lag behind their digital counterparts, something odd is happening that would have recently been seen as inconceivable: digital camera sales are decreasing, and sales of analog cameras are increasing.
The Photo Marketing Association’s most recent report (PDF) on U.S. camera sales from September 2010 says digital camera sales dropped 2 percent between the summer of 2009 and 2010, perhaps because the market was becoming saturated. Analog camera sales increased from 30 percent to 40 percent during that time, the PMA calculates, with much of the increase coming from instant camera purchases.
A popular iPhone app called Instagram mimics old-school film “flaws” but with the ease of digital. Another iPhone app does the same for videos, making them look like vintage home movies. There’s even an International Juried Plastic Camera Show–analog, of course–now in its fourth year.