When the DynaTAC Brick Phone Was Must-Have Technology

Updated: Sep 08, 2015 3:57 PM ET | Originally published: Sep 21, 2014

It’s that long-awaited day again—when Apple unveils its latest products to the iHungry masses. In 2014, Apple iPhone fans camped out for weeks in anticipation of the iPhone 6 announcement (even though surveys say Apple’s really not that cool). Then once they had the thing in their hands, there was a flurry of tech scandal headlines ranging from “Bendgate” to “Bendgazi” lambasting the new unintentionally flexible iPhones.

As we again near the brink of new Apple releases, all of the hype begs the question: What happened to the hype surrounding the last shiny new iPhones we ran out to purchase a mere 365 days ago—and, for that matter, the excitement we once felt for the brick-size Motorola DynaTAC cell phone, the TRS-80 portable computer, and all the other now-obsolete technological marvels?

Jim Golden, a Portland-based commercial still-life photographer, set out to answer those questions in his projects "Relics of Technology" (2013-14) and "Collections" (2011). In "Collections," Golden obsessively organized and arranged groupings of items—say, scissors or musical instruments. He based the assemblages on innovations made to the product over time, formal characteristics like shape or color, or objects categorized by theme, such as an assortment of things used while hunting or camping.

A handful of the images Golden created specifically centered around technology—cameras, cell phones, eight-track tapes, speakers, typewriters, video games and boomboxes. Those images inspired the spinoff project "Relics," in which Golden focused solely on photographing tech items—singularly or in repetitive abstract patterns to emphasize their mass production. He stripped away any nostalgic feelings associated with the objects by photographing them in a documentary format. He explained via email:

The seeds for the "Relics of Technology" project started when I found a brick cell phone at a thrift store in rural Oregon. Since finding it, similar bits and pieces of old technology and media kept grabbing my attention. The fascination was equal parts nostalgia for the forms, and curiosity as to what had become of them.

Golden waxed poetic when asked how he felt about the speed with which technology now becomes outdated, how quickly the items that were so big in their day have now become relics. The older he gets, he said, the more it bothers him. "I'm concerned by how distracted we are all the time, and that's a direct result of a lot of the new tech....These photos are reminders that progress has a price and our efforts have an expiration date."

Golden's use of one of the latest digital cameras to shoot the photos adds an interesting layer to the work. When you visit his website, you see a black and white portrait of the photographer—a fro of wild hair behind a vintage twin-lens Rolleiflex medium-format roll film camera (which also makes a "Where's Rollei?" cameo appearance near the center of his "Collections" image of antique cameras). Yet he didn't use that classic camera to shoot "Collections" or "Relics":

As of November 2012, I closed the chapter of my career with film....I don't have too much nostalgia for the limitations of film and the product itself, but I desperately miss all those amazing and versatile cameras we used to shoot with. I still use my Sinar P2 4x5 camera, but I put a digital back on it. All of these images [in "Relics" and "Collections"] were shot on a digital Hasselblad H series camera, so at least there is still a 'Hassie' up in the mix at the studio.

Ask any digital photographer for their biggest frustration, and one of the top five responses will inevitably be the perpetual need to upgrade to the latest and greatest gadgets on the market—the camera that produces the best quality images, the fastest-recording memory card, the lens with the crispest glass, the hard drive with the largest amount of space, the retouching software with the most features, the highest definition monitors. (As photographers, we speak in hyperboles.) Yet, all of those annual or biennial upgrades come at a price. For a Hasselblad H-series camera and lens system, that price can be the cost of a car.

There is another price as well—our shortened attention span for technology and our toddler willingness to abandon the "toys" that are still perfectly good for a much-hyped, newly-released successor. Jim Golden talks about his ambitions for these two series:

My hope for the viewer is they pause for a minute and have a reaction, good or bad, to these objects that played key roles either directly or indirectly in our lives today. If there is another thought, I hope the viewer thinks twice about upgrading that phone or discarding that old technology—can you hold out for the next version of the iPhone or Android if your current model is still functional? Question the consumption a bit, and possibly do your part to curb or limit it. I, for one, don't want to get choked out by landfills or toxic zones due to all this discarded stuff.

Golden plans to continue his "Collections" project for five to 10 more years and eventually turn it into a book—though he acknowledges that the stream of "Relics" is endless.

This is part of The Photo Bank, a new section of Money.com dedicated to conceptually-driven photography. From images that document the broader economy to ones that explore more personal concerns like paying for college, travel, retirement, advancing your career, or even buying groceries, The Photo Bank will showcase a spectrum of the best work being produced by emerging and established artists. Submissions are encouraged and should be sent to Sarina Finkelstein, Online Photo Editor for Money.com: sarina.finkelstein@timeinc.com.

More from The Photo Bank:
Looking at ‘Rich and Poor,’ 37 Years Later
Inside the 'Pay What You Want' Marketplace
The Costs of Bringing Up Baby

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