Saturday, February 12, 2011

On Holga Cameras

My Holga 120S as rendered by the
Hipstamatic App
Yesterday, I made a comment about never having taken to the whole Holga phenomenon.  I can say with all honesty that I was actually aware of Holgas way before they were 'discovered,' before Urban Outfitters saw a marketing window and populated their stores with the Holga's alter-egos, the Diana and Lomo cameras.  I bought my modified Holga from Randy at Holgamods, before he created too much attention and the manufacturer discontinued the 120S.  Nifty little thing, plastic and almost weightless.  There was something undeniably fun about wedging strips of cardboard to hold the film taut in the camera back, and wrapping the whole thing festively in gaffer tape.  I wasn't skeptical yet, not until after the tediousness of processing the film manually and watching with dismal disconcertion the morphed imaged in each frame, none a keeper.  I continued to shoot a random roll here or there, never to any satisfaction.  I was seriously engaged in a project at the time using my Wista large-format camera, and it was hard to make the mind-switch between the crisp utter cleanliness of the 4x5 film and the mottled, warped, barely legible Holga shots.  As a photographer, I am generally thorough to a fault.  Barring acts of God, I can generally guarantee the viability and success of each piece of film that I shoot.  At the cost of large-format film (approximately $3.00 per color sheet, plus $3.00 per processing, plus mailing expenses and drum-scanning), I better had be that sure.  Even now, the financial expense, the time spent, and the unpredictable results do not justify the camera to me.  It reminds me of the time I took a Printmaking class (but that is a story for another day).  

I'm not saying that the Holga is not a good camera.  In fact, it can be incredibly versatile, in the right hands.  Artist Michelle Bates has explored the capability of the Holga thoroughly, and has put together some fascinating publications on the subject.  One of my students at Georgia Southern, Amanda Morrow, probably pushed the Holga to the furthest extreme I have ever seen, using the unpredictable medium to document architecture and landscape.  I still hold firm to the idea that what you use to photograph is not nearly as important as what you choose to photograph.  However,  it is probably just as important to figure out how to apply the right equipment to the task at hand.  It might be the pithiest metaphor ever, but I think of each piece of equipment as a new language to learn, and I use each language as appropriate in each country I visit.  

I've been accused of 'disliking' the Holga, or not knowing how to use it, which couldn't be further from the truth.  I simply acknowledge that I am not attracted to the the process of using it.  To me, the Holga is an experiment in serendipity, a delightful accident, if successful.  I feel the same way with the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone, which has the same level of unpredictability as the Holga except you don't need any gaffer tape.  And a reshoot can be instantaneous, if the result sucks.  

Now if only someone would come up with a Holga app...

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