Memories of Christmas Eve, 1984: I was introduced to my first camera at age seven. Like every other night-before-Christmas, we would pile into my mother’s car and head off to my Grandmother’s house in Philadelphia. As is the Ukranian Catholic tradition, we’d stuff our faces with ethnic foods lacking meat or diary, fasting items for the religion. Borscht and fish was not the fancy of us young ones. So my cousin, my brother and I would polish off a few dozen potato-garlic pyrohy (perogies) instead. Then we’d all clean up. We’d hand-wash all of the dishes; in part because my grandmother didn’t have a dishwasher. But also because we didn’t get to open any presents until dishes were clean.
With the dishes cleaned and the silver polished, we were ready to open presents. We’d work our way into the living room to claim our little spots on the tufted, forest green carpet (yes, green, a throwback to when the house was built). Then we waited for my tiny grandmother to shuffle back and forth from her equally tiny tree with packages for each of us.
My brother and I each had a matching package that we were instructed to open last, and at the same time. I have memories of my anticipation. I remember drawing on the floor by dragging my finger through the nap of the carpet. Then the time came to open my neatly wrapped box. My grandmother liked to save wrapping paper from our gifts for later use. But not today: I tore into the perfect folds of the wrapping without a second thought. I had to see the special gift finally revealed: My very own Kodak Disc 3100 Camera.
My gateway drug.
Kodak created the unique film with the consumer in mind. Like the 110 Cartridge Film that was introduced before it, Disc Film was designed to be easy-to-use. The back of the camera hinged open to receive the film. You’d place your cartridge inside the camera like a lopsided DVD, closed the door and the camera was ready to use. The plastic shell would protect the film from light. So clumsy me never lost photos if I accidentally opened the camera. It was the perfect little camera for a seven-year-old.
The film never really caught on. Despite Kodak pushing the pushing the product well into the ’90s, it had huge disadvantages over other film formats. It used a very small cell size that resulted in grainy and relatively poor quality photos (better than Polaroid, but without the instant appeal). Worse yet, you’d spend good coin to purchase and develop the film. The cameras, while simple to use, lacked refinement and durability. It never ended up being a viable product. In 1999, the film disappeared from the market with little hope of ever returning. But that night, I didn’t care about any of that. I blew through 4 disks taking photos of everything in the house: My hand, the Christmas Tree, gifts positioned carefully on that ugly green carpet. I believe my parents – or at least their bank account – regretted that camera immediately.
The initial novelty wore off quickly and my choice of subjects grew more reserved. From that point on, my camera came with me on vacation, weekend trips, trips to the park, and so on. I learned that catching a moment helped to preserve memories. I also learned that sometimes, those photos helped me to remember things differently. My snapshots turned into explorations. Perspective strayed to lesser-known angles. Horizons were no longer at the centers of my images. I learned composition through a Darwinian method of natural selection: My weaker photos never made it to the binders, the stronger ones made it into frames. It didn’t happen overnight. But I was becoming a photographer.
As time passed, I graduated to better cameras. I remember getting a second disc camera. I also had Minolta fixed-focal-length point-and-shoot and a few other cameras before I went SLR with my Nikon N2000 (a story for another day). But I will always have fond memories of the Kodak Disc 3100, my first camera…
…and all the crappy photos I took with it.