Olympus Camera


The film camera itself is an object of nostalgia. Shooting with an analog camera constructs a nostalgic experience, which helps me cope with my negative emotional state during the Covid-19 pandemic. Beyond that, film photography brings us back to the tactile and sensory experiences that have been forgotten for a long time.

Personal memory of film cameras

When I press my vintage camera’s shutter, following by the sound of ‘click’, my memory is backing to the first day I met with it. I hold the machine in my hand and say happily, “oh! It is much heavier than my phone.” My fingers carefully linger over the camera’s metal body and feel the cold and smooth. There are little signs of wear and tear on the surface leather, but they cannot cover the beauty of this object. As time goes by, it is well-preserved by its previous owners. As the seller introduces, this 35mm film camera is Olympus OM-1n which was launched in 1973.

Comparing to other photography devices we own in modern society, such as mobile phones and digital cameras, the film camera looks quite extraordinarily out of place. Photographic film is slow, expensive, and inconvenient. It requires the user’s patience and skills. If we use a phone camera to capture things, the machine will set the parameters automatically. We could instantly get the image and decide whether we want to keep it. In contrast, for an analog photographer, the skills of reading light and adjusting the shutter speed and aperture according to the weather conditions are the most basic. Mostly, the photographer does not know what the picture will look like until the negatives are developed and printed.

Silence class, captured by Olympus OM-1n
films: Kodak gold color 200
(Xu, 2020)

Fortunately, though nowadays people have got used to employing digital photography, analog camera and photography have not faded out. But, why is there still a fascination with this antique technology? Especially during the period of Covid-19, what role does analog photography play?

Shooting with Analog: a personal nostalgic experience 
me with my cousins

My personal associations with analog photography started when I was a child. My mother, a gorgeous woman, enjoyed documenting moments by using her little analog camera. I still remember that she always carried that camera and pressed the shutter at once she saw something interesting. My childhood was recorded by that camera and developed, printed into films. Now I have my own film camera, the Olympus one. Funnily enough, it was the coronavirus epidemic that prompted me to buy this Olympus machine. Because I miss the days I cannot return, and the use of a film camera can bring me a feeling that my mother is somewhere with me. I learn to use it for recording my life just like what my mother did. Every time I raise the camera and see the world through the lens, I have a bittersweet longing for the past. Taking photos by film camera helps me recall the days of my happy childhood, the moments my mother got the camera and pointed at me, and the days I played with my cousins and I laughed loudly.

The term ‘nostalgia’ was coined to describe this bittersweet longing for the past time and good memories. But nostalgic feeling used to be recognized as a disease that is similar to what we call ‘homesickness’ today. In the 17th century, Johannes Hofer (1688), a Swiss physician, used nostalgia for referring to the longing to return home which caused the death of soldiers (Tierney, 2013). During the 19th and 20th centuries, nostalgia was deemed as a form of mental disorder. Until some psychologists proved that nostalgic feeling is a universal feeling, the awareness of nostalgia started to change. Today, a wide range of researches have presented that nostalgic experiences can generate positive affect, such as boost self-esteem, enhance self-identification and relieve the negative emotional state (Biskas, 2018).

Why do people feel nostalgia? Clay Routledge (Ted Talk, 21 Nov 2016)

Studies have shown that people often experience nostalgia. It is a wistful personal emotion that can be triggered by various stimuli or internal states (Baker & Kennedy, 1994). Nostalgia always emerges when we are in the middle of a crisis (Oliete-Aldea, 2012). Particularly, during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have faced many challenges and difficulties, such as harsh measures like lockdown that make us feel lonely, anxious, and isolated from the whole society. We are yearning to find a warm place where we can relax and move away from depression.

To overcome the negative emotional state during the period of Covid-19, many people have adopted nostalgic hobbies such as knitting and baking (Brunk et al., 2020). Likewise, I have got into the habit of shooting with my film camera. As I found it was useful to acquire a nostalgic experience that can help me cope with my frustration and homesickness during the period of the pandemic. My nostalgic behavior helps me recall my cherished memories and experiences, and a resultant nostalgic experience becomes a comfort zone in which I can get rid of the uncertainty that the pandemic brings to us and acquire a sense of security. For me, my leisurely and comfortable past time has been stored tightly and eternally in films and has become my safe harbor. Whenever I hold my film camera, I feel peace and relaxation in my mind. The nostalgic experiences of film photography bring me back to the past normal days and provide me with the feelings of being cherished, protected, and connected with our beloved ones. This nostalgic return also encourages me to be optimistic and energetic by helping me memorize the joyful time and lovely people and objects that accompany me.

A corner, captured by Olympus OM-1n
films: Kodak gold color 200
(Xu, 2020)
Analog vs Digital: the medium is the message 

However, a nostalgic feeling is not the only thing that analog photography could bring to us, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. McLuhan (1964) proposes that the medium is the message. This short sentence indicates two key points that a communication medium itself carries the message, and the medium itself is the extension of the human body. If we see analog photography as the medium, what is the message of it in this tough time? and

There is no doubt that photography is a tool of communication (van Dijck, 2008). In contrast to digital photography, analog photography itself is a representation of an old era. It has been almost 200 years since the first analog camera was invented. In addition, it is the modality of films that makes analog photography so unique. Film photography uses photographic film for capturing the view, and digital photography represents the world through bytes and bites. Every medium has a substantial impact on the ways human beings perceive and think about the world. Would our feelings be the same when we see two pictures that captured the same view of Covid-19 by digital and analog cameras separately? Photographic film has its special color and texture, and it brings the tactile and sensory experiences that digital photography cannot give us. A camera is also regarded as the extension of human eyes, and we use it for observing and documenting the world. To many people, analog photography is not merely an antique technique but is a “creative tool for the present” (Caoduro, 2014, p. 73). Many people place the present of Covid-19 into the context of the past through photographic films to creatively reconstruct a reality of the pandemic.

Over recent years, a resurgence of interest in old analog photography has emerged, and this phenomenon can be traced to many photo filter applications such as Instagram. To many social media users, a nostalgic return means the addition of vintage filters to digital photos. A visually nostalgic picture can be easily created in this way. Then, if we can use digital technologies to imitate the visual experience of film photography, do we still need analog photography?

The answer is yes. Because analog photography transfers a unique message that its capability allows us to break out from the circumstance where digital technologies have pervaded. Similarly, this is an experience that cannot be imitated by digital photography. Particularly during the pandemic, many constraints of the pandemic have intensified our dependency on digital technologies. We are getting accustomed to working, studying, and socializing on the Internet. We are living behind the screen and sometimes we are frustrated with the feeling that our lives have been dominated by the tiny gadget. But through shooting with photographic film, we can capture and experience the world on a physical medium, not some bytes and bits. Once we press the shutter, we break the boundaries that digital technologies have imposed on us, and make what we see, feel and smell physically. Simultaneously, it brings us back to the sensory and the tactile experiences that have been forgotten for a long time. Now, it is time to find them.

The Author

My name is Zihe, I come from China. Currently, I’m doing my MA at Maastricht University.


van Dijck, J. (2008). Digital photography: Communication, identity, memory. Visual Communication, 7(1), 57–76. https://doi.org/10.1177/1470357207084865

Caoduro, E. (2014). Photo Filter Apps: Understanding Analogue Nostalgia in the New Media Ecology. Networking Knowledge: Journal of the MeCCSA Postgraduate Network, 7(2). https://doi.org/10.31165/nk.2014.72.338

Erll, A. (2020). Afterword: Memory worlds in times of Corona. Memory Studies, 13(5), 861–874. https://doi.org/10.1177/1750698020943014

Oliete-Aldea, E. (2012). Fear and Nostalgia in Times of Crisis: The Paradoxes of Globalization in Oliver Stone’s Money Never Sleeps (2010). Culture Unbound, 4(2), 347–366. https://doi.org/10.3384/cu.2000.1525.124347

Routledge, C., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., Juhl, J., & Arndt, J. (2012). The power of the past: Nostalgia as a meaning-making resource. Memory, 20(5), 452–460. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658211.2012.677452

Schrey, D. (2014). Analogue Nostalgia and the Aesthetics of Digital Remediation Obsolescence and retro-cultures. 27–38.

Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Routledge, C., Arndt, J., Hepper, E. G., & Zhou, X. (2015). To nostalgize: Mixing memory with affect and desire. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (1st ed., Vol. 51, Issue 1). Elsevier Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.aesp.2014.10.001

van Dijck, J. (2008). Digital photography: Communication, identity, memory. Visual Communication, 7(1), 57–76. https://doi.org/10.1177/1470357207084865

Brunk, K., Hartmann, B., Dam, C. and Kjeldgaard, D., (2020). How coronavirus made us nostalgic for a past that held the promise of a future. [online] The Conversation. Available at: <https://theconversation.com/how-coronavirus-made-us-nostalgic-for-a-past-that-held-the-promise-of-a-future-140651> [Accessed 14 March 2021].

Biskas, M., (2018). Nostalgia can be good for you – here’s how to reap the benefits. [online] The Conversation. Available at: <https://theconversation.com/nostalgia-can-be-good-for-you-heres-how-to-reap-the-benefits-102603> [Accessed 14 March 2021].

Tierney, J., (2013). What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows (Published 2013). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/science/what-is-nostalgia-good-for-quite-a-bit-research-shows.html?_r=0&auth=login-google1tap&login=google1tap> [Accessed 14 March 2021].

Baker, S. M., & Kennedy, P. F. (1994). Death by nostalgia: A diagnosis of context-specific cases. ACR North American Advances.