If you follow any of the who’s who of the UAE creative scene, chances are you noticed a mysterious silver package appearing on their Instagram Stories last week.
Inside the shiny wrappers – labelled with the motto "Life's a movie, show us your flick" – were disposable cameras.
These unassuming, vintage-inspired cameras are the brainchild of Mohammad Murad, 30, a seasoned Emirati entrepreneur who co-founded a creative agency and a supper club.
His latest venture, Flick, is a disposable camera and film-developing service that delivers Dh65 cameras to – and collects the film from – your doorstep, develops it and then emails you digital scans of the images.
The entrance to Murad’s office, nestled in the heart of Jumeirah in Dubai, is cluttered with cartons overflowing with cameras – units in the thousands, he says, to cater to the orders coming in – a mere 48 hours after the brand officially launched.
Murad was born and raised in Dubai. His passion for film photography began as a "creative escape" while he was working in investment and corporate banking.
"If I was having a rough week, I would load up my camera with film, go out and take pictures," he tells The National. "Film photography produces the most vibrant, beautiful, colourful shots you will ever see. And I love how spontaneous it is – how unreliable it is."
Murad eventually left the banking world and turned his passion into a side hustle before growing disillusioned with photography as a profession and deciding to indulge in it purely as a hobby.
During stay-at-home restrictions in 2020, Murad deleted his Instagram photography account, returning to old-school, disposable film cameras to capture his memories instead.
“I felt like I needed that disconnect,” he says. “I didn’t have access to Instagram, which worked out well for me because it was one of the reasons this idea was born. It was then a case of seeing how I could bring my experience to the general public.”
Murad started conceptualising Flick last November and spent the next three months formulating his business plan while coffee shop-hopping – mainly between neighbourhood cafes amongst few and To the Moon & Back – before officially launching the website on February 8.
While disposable cameras were popular in the 1990s, they were soon replaced by hefty SLRs, pocket-sized digital cameras and, ultimately, the smartphone.
But, just as fashion has been touched by a nostalgic return to retro aesthetics, disposable cameras are resurfacing in popularity, says Murad, who likens the appeal of the device to that of a vinyl record player.
“It’s a fun accessory at events and at weddings, and it’s more fun when you’re creating your own content rather than someone coming and taking a photo of you,” he says.
Picture-taking, says Murad, has, in many ways, been stripped of the creative energy that the art form once held.
“Nowadays taking a picture has become so underappreciated that you almost forget what goes into it,” he explains. “Everyone is a photographer now, with their phone.”
Then there are the countless, and often dysmorphic filters that are available at the click of a button on our social media apps. These take away the authenticity that once fuelled the craft. The effects achieved by film photography, says Murad, are matchless – even though many apps and filters have been designed to mimic the aesthetic of film.
“No matter what editing app or software you use, you cannot recreate the flaws of film camera,” he says.
Flick fills a gap in the market that has largely gone unnoticed because of further advancements in photography, says Murad.
“The market hasn’t changed very much over the past 10 or so years – it’s predominantly Fuji and Kodak who are dominating the market and disposable cameras are not their main product."
Consumers are clearly focusing on more technologically advanced methods of capturing images. So what will digital-savvy millennials find appealing about disposable cameras, especially when they’ve become reliant on speedy “shoot, click, post” approaches to photography?
“I think instant gratification isn’t as gratifying as it used to be, to be honest,” says Murad. “Some of these iPhone and Android phones have better cameras than SLRs. Because it has become so common, people nowadays are looking for that extra bit of excitement, where they remember that they took an amazing photo and are looking forward to how it turns out.”
Flick’s contemporary twist on the process is its film-developing scheme, which allows users to stay in the comfort of their homes while their images are processed.
“I genuinely believe that you need to find a way to make someone lazier and that will be successful,” says Murad.
When customers have used up their film, they visit Flick's website and list the number of cameras they'd like to develop. The next day, a courier will collect the film from the cameras and take them to Filmoticon-Spacelab, which will send the customer their digital scans over email a few days later. Customers can also order prints or collect the negatives from the lab – which will otherwise be disposed of within 30 days.
Though the film-developing service is currently only available in the UAE, Murad has his eye on regional expansion, and is in talks with potential partners in Riyadh and Jeddah. The Middle Eastern creative scene, he says, is thriving, and the community is also gravitating towards old-fashioned modes of content creation.
"If you're looking at the more mainstream fashion industry, Gigi Hadid has a full-on Instagram page where she only takes pictures with disposable cameras," he points out. "So yes, it's making a huge comeback."
Each Flick camera costs Dh65, plus Dh45 for its film to be developed; flickcameras.com