Many of you teaching at the university level are encountering “Generation Z,” those Post-Millennials, whose technological coming-of-age is one that is characteristically digital. As a Millenial myself, it’s sometimes difficult for me to gauge what their interests are. I’m equally perplexed by what pop culture references of ours overlap, who is “cool” now, and what kinds of experiences in the classroom might excite them. I’m not always sure what they’re going to respond to, so I like to experiment.You might think that the children of the digital age are so over anything remotely
analog, but you might be surprised to hear otherwise. In my Spring semester course, American Literature’s Spirits, I set up a spirit photo day.I brought in three of my analog film cameras that worked with the film. We spent two days shooting and the first half of the first day I walked them through working these analog photo methods. ups with an antiquated technology that was new to them. The instant film we used isn’t the shake-it-like-a-Polaroid-picture kind. This type requires pulling apart the developed image from the sensitized paper. Photochemistry gets all over your fingers. It’s messy. My students loved it.
To make doctored spirit photos, we used the double exposure method. This involved layer images one on top of the other by clicking on the shutter release multiple times for a single image. The second exposure becomes the transparent image on top of the solid first image. Students were encouraged to bring in props to play with–scarves to look like shrouds, mirrors, dried flowers. Really anything that could be made to look creepy.
We could have easily done this exercise using double exposure apps. Remember, digital cameras have been double exposure a relic of the past. Technologically by default, they don’t allow for it. But we could have worked around this. Being an analog photographer myself, I thought it was important for students to experience the magic of photochemistry. Unlike the immediacy of a digital photo, they had to wait about a minute for the images to develop before they could remove the paper covering encasing it. Ideally, I would have loved to make spirit photos using 19th-century wet plate methods with my students. The cost of the supplies and complicated developing process made that nearly impossible. Instant film was the next best thing. Students got a better sense of how analog photographic methods could be particularly playful, experimental, and mysterious. I’ve been thinking about developing a course on dead technologies, one section being on photography, one on typewriting, and one vinyl. I’d definitely incorporate this kind of exercise in a course like that.
Here’s some of the work my students created over the course of those two spirit photo classes: