January 28, 2007


Rebirth Through a Toy Camera
                                                                                                                                                                           
My first post and I am surprisingly (to me) nervous.

A few things about me, both as background to me in general and as a background to this post.  First; I am a traveler.  I have been to quite a number of spots in Asia and I am as comfortable in a low budget guesthouse in Laos as I am in my own bedroom.  Second, I am an avid photographer.  These two hobbies mesh together beautifully, and one does well in charging the other.  However, I haven't really been on a trip for six months and nothing serious for almost a year now.  The lack of travel is causing me to stagnate photographically, and while I want to change it, I just can't find my muse here in Taipei.

Well, a new and rather expensive DSLR gave me a short shot of adrenaline, but it didn't rocket me forward in any particular way.  Not that I was expecting a new camera to make me a new photographer, but one can always hope.

Enter the Holga; one of the very worst cameras ever built.  

Worst, that is,  if what you are looking for in a camera is decent build (calling the Holga a toy camera is an insult to decent toys everywhere), good light metering abilities (the Holga has none), a good, bright lens (on the Holga you get a cheap plastic lens with lots of irregularities and distortions), the ability to take a bump or a drop and keep on going; even a new Holga can use some tape to make sure it doesn't pop open at a bad time (see photo).  The very plastic body is also very famous for allowing large amounts of light to leak into the body of the camera, which is one of the only things a camera body is really not supposed to do.  Really, if I was to suddenly start a new camera company and was to hire an engineer to design the best possible camera, what I would do is to buy a Holga and simply instruct my new engineer to make the new camera everything that a Holga is not.  

The one image quality positive to the Holga is that it is a Medium Format camera, which means it uses larger film and produces a negative/slide which is 6x6cm rather than the 3.6x2.4cm most are used to on 35mm film.  This little tidbit is directly involved in how I shot my first roll.  

A Holga is much like a Harley Davidson, in that it is quite rare for their owners to use them as is out of the box.  Now, much like Harley Davidson owners, there are two types of Holga Owners.  With Harley's, one is the typical, hardcore biker and the other is the stock broker who wants the prestige of ownership, but doesn't really fit the true lifestyle.  With Holga owners, there are the hardcore, who do the mods themselves and there are the wannabes who go to those who are truly dedicated to have the modifications done for them.  I have to admit that I am the cheesy ass wannabe and I bought the mod for my Holga.  My modification is one which allows me to use 35mm film in the camera and allows for the photo to go all the way to the edges, right overtop the sprocket holes.  My choice for going this route was twofold.  First, I like the look.  Second, I have extra 35mm film in my fridge and no way to scan the 120 film normally used in the Holga.  Being a digital baby, I want the fast access that developing my own b&w film gives me.  



Being a cheap bugger, I also like the reduced costs involved in doing the processing and scanning myself too.  The downside to such an approach is that because scanner is only designed for the smaller image size, producing a single frame requires four scans and a fair bit of PhotoShop time to create a single image.



Now, above I gave a number of reasons why the Holga can be considered the worst camera ever made.  However, there is something about the Holga that also makes it one of the best ways to spend $1000nt for a little photographic fun.  There is just something really special about having a camera where the only control you have is how you frame your image, and even that isn't too accurate.  What this leads to is for me to stop thinking about the photograph and just thinking about taking pictures.  To me, this is more than just a semantic distinction.

There is also something about the distortions, light leaks and irregularities of the Holga which make for beautiful photos.  Hopefully I can show some of those in future posts.

Right now, taking photos is simple and fun again.  What more could I ask?

1 comment:

Corinne said...

Well said.