Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Fantastic Plastic Holga

OK, so, I didn't coin that phrase. I just borrowed it.

But it's still true. The Holga — a cheap, plastic, light-leaky, soft-focusey, camera from China — is indeed fantastic. It's probably one of the most fun, frustrating, creative, annoying, adaptable machines in my ever-growing collection of film cameras.

 Steve, left, and Sheryl Hartz add a touch of old-time music to the Old Fashioned Sweet Tooth Sugarcane event as the mule team runs an antique cane press in the background on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2014, at the Durst-Taylor Historic Site on North Street in Nacogdoches. Each Holga camera has its own unique characteristics, with darkened corners, light leaks and more aberations adding to the look and the fun of the camera.

And, the best part of it is, it's all of that and more.

The image above shows just a hint of some of the inherent issues with an unmodified Holga camera. But it's just those issues that make me love the things. The light leaks, the dark corners and just about everything else about the camera are really just some of its most attractive features and are why I first picked one up almost 15 years ago and, really, haven't put them down since.

Photographing with a Holga must be, for me, about as close as I'll ever get to what was going through the minds of George Eastman, Louis Daguerre, Joseph Niepce and the other pioneers of photography when they were putting their revolutionary ideas into practice.

Moving water becomes a lacy curtain in a 1 minute exposure with a Holga modified into a pinhole camera. The pinhole, which uses a tiny hole to focus the light instead of a lens, is a variation of the camera obscura and is one of the oldest types of photographic processes still in use today.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not claiming anything I come up with even begins to compare to their contributions to photography. But the beauty of the Holga, in part, is that sense of wonder: Mostly wondering what I'm going to get when I develop the film. Because, even after I've shot a Holga several times (I have about a dozen, by the way) it's always a little bit of a crap shoot.

But again, that's where the fun is. Finding out what a camera as inherently idiosyncratic as the Holga will do is one thing. Having it surprise you, just when you think you have it figured out, is something else entirely. And it's part and parcel of why I love photography, particularly analog photography, so much.

A wild hog skull and piece of heavy bark make an interesting counterpoint in a studio still-life shot with a Holga camera.
 Even in the rigidly-controlled arena of studio photography, the Holga can shine. But even there, the flaws, foibles and imperfections of the camera come out. There's still an inherent mystery to images captured with the Holga that carry me back to those earliest days and some of the craptastic less than perfect images I made as a boy learning photography from my father.

He always encouraged me to experiment. That, he'd say, was the only way to learn about something. Find out what it could do, what it couldn't do, and then take it to its limits and beyond. It's easy, particularly with modern photographic technology, to get into a rut. That's where I found myself several months ago now when I first conceived of this project.

And now, almost nine-months into it, I believe I'm seeing some results. I'm really having fun again, just going out, me and my cameras, looking for things that interest me and exploring them through the lens.

And the adaptable, simple, modifiable Holga is, for me, one of the best tools for that catharsis I'm achieving.

Analog East Texas is an ongoing photographic project by Andrew D. Brosig, photo editor for The Daily Sentinel. Each month, Analog East Texas will highlight an antique film camera from Brosig’s personal collection.
The idea behind the project is to explore the technology and technique that inspired both amateur and professional photographers in the pre-digital age. Analog East Texas also gives the photographer a chance to return to his roots in nondigital, film-based photography.
In addition to these pages, you may follow the project on Flickr
, with more images from the Holga, other antique and vintage film cameras, and images made for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2014 on April 27.

No comments: