White Album is a new app that forces a user’s iPhone camera to act like a disposable camera. It asks users to take 24 pictures in either a circle or square format. They don’t get to edit their photos after shooting, or even review them, so there’s no room for do-overs. Once the app’s “roll” is finished, users pay $20 to receive high-quality prints. When the elegant White Album package of photos comes in the mail, it’ll be the first time users get to see the raw, unedited pictures they took.
While it might seem counter-intuitive to dumb down a smartphone — to strip away many of its advantages — it’s a surprisingly good idea for a few reasons.
“While it may seem retro to send in unedited smartphone pics for printing, for decades amateur and professional photographers have longed for the element of surprise and discovery when images taken are revealed in the darkroom for the first time,” says Jonathan Davis, Sales and Marketing Manager at 42nd Street Photo, a popular photography and electronics store in New York City.
First, consider the advantages of smartphone photography. Mobile device users have a high-powered camera on them at all times, a nearly limitless amount of storage space for photos, the ability to edit and fix the pictures, and capability to instantly share them with everyone in their social networks.
In fact, we snap as many photos every two minutes nowadays as humanity as a whole did in the 19th century, but what becomes of those pictures?
“We’re taking tons and tons of photos all the time, and then we just forget about them,” said Greg Back, who came up with the idea for White Album while visiting his girlfriend’s family in Korea. “I don’t imagine that too many people scroll through all their old photos every Christmas and reminisce.”
And it’s not just about the loss of the physical photo album, either. There are no more shoeboxes of old photographs tucked away under beds or old packages of photos forgotten in drawers anymore. While physical copies of photos do go missing, of course, it may — ironically enough — be easier to hold onto them than onto the thousands of digital snaps taken by a series of increasingly obsolete digital cameras and smartphone. Unless you meticulously archive your digital photos, the pictures wind up lost in obscure corners of hard drives, unlikely to ever be seen again. They’re looked at once, and lost forever.
Not only does the app allow users to hold onto their memories, it also forces them to be more conscientious of what they take pictures of. With nearly infinite film, smartphone photographers have no reason to hold back. They take pictures of just about anything and everything, and why not? If it’s not good, they can just take another or edit it.
The White Album, though, forces users not to fidget with their pictures. It’s just a viewfinder and shutter button. That’s it.
“You don’t really have to think about it too much when you’re in the act of shooting,” said Berg. “Because you literally can’t review your pictures, you just move on.”
With so many pictures of inconsequential times and items being taken, the pictures that really matter become devalued, and lost. White Album, however, forces users to think before they shoot. It makes users ask whether or not they should really use one of their 24 shots.
While this can be considered an advantage, others have not seen it that way. During beta testing, some users never finished their rolls, because they were being extra careful.
While both film and digital have their own advantages and drawbacks, the White Album app allows users to benefit from both models.