The Crappiest Cameras of the Digital Age
HAPPY NEW YEAR! All best wishes to thee and thine.
This is a re-run of an article I wrote for onefive4gallery.com, a collective of artists from a multitude of disciplines. Check them out!
In recent years, vintage toy cameras have been gaining artistic appeal. Why?….
The Holga, the Diana, and others… they were among the lamest cameras of the ’60’s and ’80’s – cheap plastic give-aways that kids would save cereal box-tops for. The bottom pile of an increasingly sophisticated artform, when photography was becoming precise and razor sharp in its aesthetic and production. In their time, a camera with a plastic lens, dubious aperture settings and a vague focusing system, was definitely not to be taken seriously.
Whether it likes it or not, the present always looks towards the past. So in our digital world, with our digital aesthetics, it is inevitable that we begin to see nostalgia, and even to seek nostalgia, in what we look at and listen to. This is why music, trends, and art tend to repeat themselves every few generations or so.
These weak pieces of plastic have, for the first time, begun to mean something to the art of photography. We have come to expect perfection in our pictures, but the hearts of many of us still hold dear the imperfect images of our memories.
This is one of the basic appeals of a camera like the Holga or Diana. Pop in a roll of old-school 120 film and shoot the best you can without the benefit of a re-do. Then rush the roll to a lab and wait a small eternity for the turn-around- At first, all this ends in frustration- casting off precious dollars for 12 frames of failure. Eventually you get it right though, and begin to get pictures that many would say were shot decades ago – back in that world of memory.
But this effect is now possible digitally- with apps like instagram, hipstamatic, etc. For now, the eye can still tell the difference between digital effect and real analog, but very soon, the two will be indistinguishable.Digital has far outpaced what film can do. So it goes- there’s no purist indignation here.
Then – what’s the point of having a love affair with analog film, and especially for cheapie plastic cameras?
Two reasons that come to mind:
1) There are no re-do’s. You have to get it right the first time. This frees the instinct to have full sway, and often, instinct is the best force we have. There are no fancy knobs and settings, no science. Just you and the light.
2) Also, the chemical properties of film are totally integral to the image produced. Each make of film has its own basic character that can’t be circumvented. Choosing the right film for your vision is like finding the right spice for a meal- once you start with it, it’s there to stay. And- analog processing is subject to temperature, time, and density- functions of the physical world. It’s a more dynamic, organic, process.
Careful re-makes of vintage toy cameras are sold all over the place now, and analog is definitely in fashion lately. It has all the trappings of a fad. Who knows if it will stick. Who cares?… It’s an endlessly fun art, and that’s all it really needs to be.
For more of my analog, toy camera pics: