Dispo Proves Nostalgia and Delayed Gratification Wins the Popularity Contest
I was sixteen years old when I developed my love for shooting film photography. It was 2002 and I was a sophomore at a suburban midwest high school that had over 3,000 students walking the halls. While I was a social butterfly floating my way from one group to another, Photography class was where I was most myself. The darkroom was my safe space.
I learned how to roll film, process photos with the developer, and stop and fix chemicals, and hang them to dry. And like everything I do, I went all in. I didn’t just do the assignments, I took the Minolta camera home every night and came back with multiple rolls to develop. I walked around my neighborhood looking for interesting shots that showed rhythm and lines and abstract art that only I could see through the lens of my camera.
I skipped Spanish to stay longer in the darkroom rolling my film and found my way back during study-hall to see the photos come to life. I loved Photography class and never wanted it to end. So the following year, I joined Yearbook and learned how to use the computer to move the photos around on the page and create collages which I didn’t know at the time would be an introduction to marketing and design that I would do almost 15 years later.
But my love for photography didn’t end when I graduated. I got a Nikon N75 and spent all of my free time taking artistic shots. I would drive down to the city by myself and walk around clicking the shutter on people and structures from different angles. I longed to travel the world and shoot for a living but I felt like it was a long shot so I kept it as a fun escape.
A few years into my 20s, I got really interested in creating stories through my art. I staged scenes and my friends would model my ideas. Every weekend I had a new photoshoot idea that I brought to life with the dream of one day having a gallery. I was excited about my hobby turning into more so I learned how to make a simple website on Wordpress to sell my prints and I started a photoblog on Blogger called “Janine Martini” that showed my life as a single 22-year-old living in Columbus, sharing it all from my camera. Although I loved shooting with film, I needed a digital camera for my blog so I bought my first DSLR from a man on Craigslist for $300. That was the most I had ever spent on one item, but to my surprise, it came with a bag and a lens so it was worth it.
Shortly after I started my blog, I met my husband and he was my ultimate cheerleader. One of the first gifts he ever bought me was a large commercial grade printer and 48 x 36 frames to put the prints in. My tiny studio apartment was covered in frames and prints. Every exposed-brick wall had my artwork leaning up against it, waiting to be sold. Then one day, I got an invite to display my art in a gallery in the Short North Arts District for Gallery Hop, the time each month when people from around the city came downtown to walk the streets of the arts district to see the pieces on display. I couldn’t believe it! I had so much work to do. The frames I had included a small cutout under the photo where I could write a few words to help tell the story. It was essentially a live-Instagram before there was such a thing.
I knew the art on the front windows had to be so eye-catching that it would draw people into the gallery to see more. The two I selected for the front windows were extremely unexpected. The first: a woman in the trunk of a car, bound and crying with a smudged note in the cutout that said “my first prom”. The other: a man wearing gas masks holding bright-colored flowers with the soil and roots snaking through his fingers, in the opening, it said “remember when the earth was colorful?” During the gallery show, I was too nervous to be there so I found a seat on a patio at the Mexcian restaurant across the street where I had chips and queso and watched people walk by, do a double-take, back up, tilt their head at the girl in the trunk and then walk into the gallery.
Although I never did open a gallery of my own, I continued shooting and made a pretty good side-hustle out of it. I became a production director for a marketing agency doing huge 3-day production shoots to help bootstrap my legal tech app. I took headshots and website photos for startups around town which helped me get in the door with some of the local investors and entrepreneurs and I even ended up shooting for some big brands and notable figures, which helped me build and grow my network as I became an entrepreneur myself.
Photography continued to be a passion of mine until having children when I had to make a decision about carrying a diaper bag or a camera bag. The diaper bag always won. Over the next few years, my DSLR started to collect dust as iPhones got a better resolution, lower f-stop, and wider lens capability. By the time Instagram was bought by Facebook, everyone was a photographer. I scrolled Instagram looking for inspiration and art and all I found was post after post of unnatural planned perfection. It was exhausting to keep up so I unfollowed everyone who made me wonder why I didn’t look like them. And I stopped taking photos for fun.
Now, 20 years after I walked out of that darkroom, I’m walking back in!
Dispo is a nostalgic photo app created by David Dobrik and an incredible team of designers and engineers. The app feels like a disposable camera and gives your shots a vibey look. It is authentic and real and candid. It’s everything we are missing in photography today.
There is a tiny viewfinder so you almost can’t see what you’re taking a photo of and a zoom in and out feature and that’s it. The simple user interface eliminates decisions and makes you just shoot. The photos you take “develop” at 9:00 am the next morning so you are left with the anticipation of wondering what those shots will reveal.
When your photos are developed, they are dropped in a library where you can assign them to a roll or favorite, export, or delete.
The social part of the app is what gets interesting. You can create rolls that act as photo albums and invite other people to your rolls to add their photos as well. So you are essentially building photo albums with friends and strangers on the internet. So fun! The rolls can be named anything and are usually categorized with a theme or topic like “S K Y R O L L 🌝🌙⭐️ 🌗” where everyone includes photos of the sky in different parts of the world and times of the day. Or the “good vibez” roll that has photos of everything that brings people joy.
The best part about Dispo is everything they left out. There are no filters, no editing tools, no captions, no camera uploads, no memes, no quotes, no algorithms for vanity metrics, and no ability to import contacts from other social media accounts. Everyone starts at the same place: zero.
Profiles are not celebrated by a follower-to-following count so you are encouraged to follow as many people as you want and only the following number is displayed. The only other metrics that are displayed are how many photos you’ve taken shared under the 💥 and the elusive 🔥 number which some say could be the streak but most people are still trying to figure it out, while one of the programmers says “it’s a secret”.
Just like Clubhouse and other consumer apps launched during the pandemic, Dispo gives people a chance to make new friends by allowing them to create rolls with each other and share a look inside their unfiltered life. But the beauty is that the conversation on the photo comments is limited in characters so the purpose of the communication is through art and photography.
After you take a photo with Dispo, there is nothing left to do but wait which brings you back to the present moment that you were in and gives you back so much time when you would be selecting a filter, and coming up with a meaningful message and then adding the perfect number of hashtags so you can gain popularity points. But all of that is gone.
Dispo brings us back to the days of taking photos for fun and dismantling all of the negativity brought on by the socially-motivated perfectionist culture from the last decade.
Nostalgia runs deep
With Clubhouse taking over the old-school radio waves, and Dispo capturing that retro camera vibe, we can ask what other moments in time will we see replaced by a consumer app? I’d say whatever it will be better launch during the pandemic as we’ve seen ground-breaking interest in beta testers while everyone is stuck inside but to some, the elite status of invite-only is enough to turn them away.
In marketing, we’ve seen that exclusivity breeds interest. It’s a FOMO play and a business decision. Most apps start in TestFlight as a beta product and invite beta testers to use it, test, and send bug reports. TestFlight only allows up to 10,000 users in an app. In this case, Dispo opened the beta and it was full within a few days because everyone got 20 invites to share when they got in. Right now the beta is full and they are working to get more users in soon.
Invite-only isn’t always about leaving people out. Sometimes it starts as a marketing strategy or beta testing for feedback and becomes a great success.
If you’re not in the Dispo beta yet, just know that it’s worth the wait, just like your photos every morning. 📸💥