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David Zax

A View from David Zax

A Smartphone Negative Scanner

The smartphone giveth, and the smartphone taketh away.

  • January 18, 2013

Yesterday, in the depths of a desk drawer, I found a crumpled sheet of negatives. To use that word as a noun these days is so rare as to require clarification: I’m talking about photographic negatives, the technology that a decade ago, in my Introductory Photography class, we still used. I held up the negatives to my window and recognized some scenes from a visit to downtown Washington, DC, with a friend about six years ago. I reckon it was one of the last two or three times I ever shot on film.

I nearly threw the negatives away. But at the last moment, a surge of nostalgia compelled me to keep them. I stored them deep in a closet.

This is our relationship with classic forms of photography today: tsunami forces of destruction, coupled with counter-surges of nostalgia (see “Kodak’s Fight for Survival”). Take Instagram, that pinnacle of quick, easy, social, digital photography–that nonetheless has at its core the ability to add filters giving the rough-hewn look of older mediums.

But nothing more perfectly epitomizes our weird photographic moment, the tension between destruction and nostalgia, as the Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner, a sleeper hit on Kickstarter this week. As of this writing, the scanner has exceeded its $50,000 goal by about a factor of three, and with more than two weeks left to go. Check out their Kickstarter pitch.

Basically, the device is what it sounds like: it hooks up to your smartphone and enables you to quickly and easily scan 35mm film (“scan” being used loosely here; you’ll really be photographing it, but in a standardized, locked-in way that evokes the idea of scanning).

Tools like this are brilliant: they constitute an occasion to go back into your pre-smartphone archives and bring everything up to date. Of course, Lomography hardly invented the idea of negative scanning–print shops have been doing this for years, and there are plenty of other devices on the market–but the company is doing so affordably and in a way tailored specifically for iPhone and Android. “It’s a brand new way to scan your 35mm stills,” as the team puts it, “and the perfect tool for analog photographers and retro-enthusiasts.”

How does it work? Hook up your device, flip on the backlight, feed in your 35mm film, and you’re ready to go. A free app makes it easy to edit (flip those negatives into positives, for instance) and share. You can stitch together shots into panoramas. Lomography touts various tie-ins with some of its other devices, such as the LomoKino, a $79, 35mm camera.

Photography has always been about nostalgia–whether it be documenting a child’s birthday party that’s slipping away even as it happens, or documenting an entire people’s way of life being overrun. This strange, modern-day spectacle of a camera taking a picture of a picture–which is essentially what the Lomography device does–is a fitting illustration of the ways in which photography is simultaneously destroying and memorializing itself.

The Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner: How Scanning LomoKino Movies Works from Lomography on Vimeo.

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