• UO Interviews: Disposable Magazine

    Disposable Magazine is an independent, LA-based publication run by a small all-girl team, Alaia, Alx, Anais, and Chrissy. The 4 of them collectively send disposable cameras to individuals from as many countries they can reach in an effort to continually discover new inspirations and document unseen surroundings. Chinwe Okona photographed the Disposable Magazine team and talked with them about the magazine’s beginnings, all the places they’ve been lucky enough to send cameras, and their hopes for the future of the publication. 

    Photos & Words by Chinwe Okona

    What was the inspiration behind Disposable Magazine? 
    Anais: Back in 2009, I was living in Tokyo and had a simple fashion blog. At the time, everything you could see around the internet was mainly coming from London, or Paris, or New York, and pretty much everybody was wearing the same thing, doing the same thing. I really curious to see how people were living in places that were never looked at; I wondered what I could do to get content from Indonesia or Africa or any other places, and it was really hard. In 2009, you didn’t have cell phones that could take good pictures, and I couldn’t fly there, I didn’t have money. So, I thought, “What about I get a disposable camera and send it over, and ask people to take pictures and send it back to me?” That was the cheapest way for me to get content — so I did that. I sent one to a boy named Michael in Jakarta, he was a kid in high school then. 

    How did you find him? 
    He had recently pinged me on Facebook. I always have a lot of people message me on social media, but luckily they usually come from places that are removed from where I am. Michael was one of them. He had just lost his girlfriend in the big tsunami in 2004, and was really depressed. We talked a lot — I have a slight obsessions with tsunamis — and that’s how the conversation came together. And then I told him about my idea and I sent him a camera. He took pictures of all his friends, and he sent it back to me and I loved it. It was just amazing. The way they were dressed, the colors, everything. I published the photos on my blog and sent another camera, this time to Haiti. This was in 2010, one year later, after the earthquake. Again, the pictures were amazing, especially at this time because they had just lost all the buildings. Again I published these photos on my blog, but on my own I’m not a creative person who will move mountains by myself. Later on, when I was working at American Apparel I mentioned those cameras and thought, “why don’t we do this with more people and make a magazine of it?” And that’s how Disposable Magazine was born.
    What has been your favorite roll of film that you’ve developed for the magazine?
    Alaia: One of my favorite rolls that I ever received was from this duo, Shiro Schwarz. One, they were super excited to be a part of the project. Two, they were probably the contributors that it took the longest to get a camera to — I sent it to Mexico City during the holidays and going through customs took really long; there was all this anticipation of getting the camera to them, literally I could have driven there myself and it would have gotten there faster than twenty days. When I got it back, it was so colorful and bright. Even though they had a lot of fun with it, you can tell that they were very careful about what they were shooting. They were very cognizant of the fact that it’s film and there’s no room for error, that you’re capturing each moment just one time. And even when we sent the developed pictures back to them, they were so descriptive in their recaps of each moment — I just felt like they were super excited about the opportunity. 

    Alex: Anais and I got to go to Honduras and we each took a camera with us there — it was one of my favorite rolls to get back. Just to see all of the colors, and it was such a different environment from what we were used to. Also there were so many stories, because each day we got to interview different people, and all of the food and everything…It was nice that we got to go out and take the photos, even though each of our contributors always gives us great content, this time it was nice that we got to go out and experience it for ourselves. 

    Do you feel like travel has always been important to you? How has the project allowed your love for travel to continue to grow?
    Anais: Travel has always been something very important to me. I got lucky that my parents were traveling a lot and always bringing me and my sister along; I got exposed to different cultures very early and that just became my way of living. I would say the only limitation is time and money — when you work, especially in the United States, you don’t have much vacation. We got lucky to travel with work, and I’m still traveling with work, which is great, but definitely sending cameras to places that I don’t necessary have time and money to go to…to see the pictures coming back is like travel by proxy.  

    Chrissy: Ever since I was little kid I have always loved to travel. Exploring new places, trying new things and experiencing different cultures… It always been root of my inspirations and it also made myself to be able to understand differences and respect other individuals. Disposable Magazine contain the aspect of showing various lifestyles with amazing contents. I love the fact that we were able to feature a lot of interesting people globally and that gives me more desire to travel around the world. I wish people can have that experience with disposable magazine. 
    You have a physical magazine, but you also have this online presence — how do you balance the authentic film aspect of the project with using social media to propel it?
    Alaia: The way we use social media is a lot of reminiscing. Because we have to develop the cameras, there’s that space of time that you’re anticipating what you’re going to see and then you get it back and share it with everybody. It’s kind of cool that people will ask about the photos, and you’re like, “Oh yeah, this happened! This event happened!” Or, “I completely forgot this was on the roll!” When I did my camera, I took eight months to shoot, so when I was developing, I was like, “Oh my god! I can’t believe this was on here!” That element of surprise brings out a genuine side of people, even on social media. Also, we always show every single photo on the roll. That’s why we ask people to send us the whole camera. In the past we’ve had people develop it for us and they won’t send us the whole roll because there are parts of it they’re unhappy with. But in reality, you’re your own worst critic. To everyone else it could be totally amazing, but to you, you could hate it. For us it’s all or nothing — the flaws are part of the beauty of the project. I feel like that’s starting to resonate with people. 
    How has the magazine helped grow your friendships? 
    Anais: This is our friendship! This is the opposite of how it usually works — we were not really friends before the project. When I started working on the idea, a lot of friends came to me and offered help, but I wanted the best designers so I said to Alex, who sat next to me at work, “Girl! Nice meeting you! I have this project, do you want to work on it?” And that’s how we became friends. Alaia wasn’t at American Apparel anymore and we almost lost touch, but we met up and talked, and I was like, “Hey, do you want to help?” Then we became friends because she joined the team. 

    Chrissy: Like Anais said we were not so close to each other but since we became a team of Disposable Magazine we were able to build strong friendship. Especially for me it meant a lot because the country where I from it is almost impossible to do something that has no relation to your 10-12 hours daily job. To me Disposable Magazine made my life to be more meaningful and I am so grateful to have Anais, Alex and Alaia as my friend and co-worker for this magazine. 
    Name some of the places that you’ve sent cameras to. What are some places that you haven’t sent cameras to yet that are on your wishlist?
    Anais: Africa is one of the hardest places to send cameras. We sent one camera to Nairobi, that was quite easy. We also got a camera to Lagos, but that one was kind of a hassle. 

    Alaia: Yeah, it got sent back. 

    Anais: We actually had to smuggle it. The girl [we we tried to send it to] had a friend who was visiting Canada, so we sent it to the friend who took to back to Nigeria. Same thing when we sent a camera to Iran, because obviously sending a camera from America to Iran, to a woman — we had to smuggle it in and smuggle it out. That’s actually one of my favorite rolls. We also smuggled a camera into Afghanistan, but it’s still in Kabul right now. The contributor is done with the film, but he’s waiting to know of someone flying out. For me, those countries are really important, because it’s rare to see how people actually live. The media always focuses on poverty or war, and there is so much more than that. That’s what I would like to explore more, it’s just harder.  

    Alaia: We haven’t had anyone from New Zealand; that would be kind of cool! 

    Alex: We also haven’t had anyone from India, and only one person from Italy. 

    Alaia: There’s a lot of Western Europe, but not a lot of Eastern European people. Just one guy from Warsaw. 

    Anais: Nothing from Russia. But we’re really popular in the Philippines! One of our best friends is famous there and was one of the first people to contribute. 

    Alaia: To this day, we still get so many teenage to twenty-ish girls from the Philippines who reach out to us. It’s very cool to see what someone’s fanbase can do for you; we wouldn’t know how the youth in the Philippines are living if it weren’t for Martine’s help. [laughs] 

    But you’ve reached every continent? Except for Antartica?
    All: Wow..yeah! 

    Alaia: We have a couple people from Australia. There are definitely people from Asia, Africa, Europe. North and South America. We just need some sort of researcher in Antartica!  

    Last question! What do you dream of when you dream of the future of Disposable Magazine?
    Alex: I’ve been thinking it could become more of a platform to help people — not just taking photos, or reaching people who don’t always have the opportunity to take photos, but maybe something to help people start a business, or help them have access to print books…Some kind of creative outreach platform. 

    Anais: All the people we meet through this platform are really creative, and very inspirational. A lot of them don’t have access to visibility or they just don’t know how to start a project, or make something from an idea into a reality. On the longer term, that’s something that we would really like to be able to do, to be a platform for that.  

    Alex: I mean, that’s how we started out. We didn’t know either. We still don’t really know, but we’re figuring it out! [laughs]  

    Chrissy: I hope Disposable Magazine become a brand that inspire people and be a good example of having real ideas and passionate people can achieve the goals. I can imagine to be working on creative projects at the place that has puppies and pink restrooms!

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