The following color pictures were taken with a Diana; the black and white ones with a Soviet Zorki-4
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:
To a vast number of people, the name “Amsterdam” conjures up visions of a rampant emporium of drugs and sex. Rest assured, the vice is here in ample supply, but if you have even a tad of interest beyond getting royally knackered in a red-light district, then it will be clear to you that there’s so so much more going for this city.
Amsterdam is a grande dame of sorts – sophisticated in taste, and refined by prosperous centuries. However, despite having impeccable table manners, she hasn’t forgotten how to be warm and precocious – to get down on the floor and play with the kids a bit.
It is appropriate then that Amsterdam has been a mother city: a mother of modern capitalism, a mother of tolerance, a mother of the modern republic, and for a New Yorker, still fondly remembered as the mother city of NYC.
It’s a proud city- full of life, confidence, positivity and openness – a rare place of “live and let live”- Though, truth be told, like any metropolis, it’s not without its downsides. Organized crime has taken hold of the town’s legal vice “industry”, most heinously in the red light district, where it engages in human trafficking and exploitation. And, for all the city’s openness, I know of someone who was attacked on the street because he was gay. Bad things happen everywhere, unfortunately.
The neighborhood around the train station is best missed. This is where the unadventurous, hedonistic day-trippers hang out: Stumble off the train, get stoned, get laid, come-to in the morning and stumble back on the train. On weekends, mobs of drunken, young, British men make a zoo of his area.
The further one heads into the tangles of street and rings of canal, the more even-keeled the place becomes – hidden little squares of book sellers, cloistered medieval convents, the famous Bloemenmarkt (tulips!), stately churches, modest cafes and bars, and of course, the magnificent houses of the Golden Age’s well-to-do.
It’s an ambling sort of city – no straight lines, no hard angles – even the old mansions lean forward slightly to facilitate the hauling up of goods to upper-floor storerooms. The canals wrap around the cityscape in tree-lined ribbons of water. Without the canals, the city would be impossibly cramped and dark – The presence of so much water gives the place gills – breathing room and light.
(Speaking of canals, someone has to clean them, especially all the bikes that fall in)
Quiet conversation emerges from cafes and weed smoke occasionally wafts from a coffeeshop. The daytime is certainly not lazy, but definitely not hectic.
Amsterdam, in general, is full of sensuality, but the night bears it especially well. In one venerable sidestreet bar, old men may be drinking jenever, and in another place, ramshackle bookshelves and colorful art may line the walls… The streets themselves are an enticing labyrinth by night, with lights reflecting off the canals, and hundreds of dark nooks. And the red light district…
De Wallen has been catering to the carnality of the waterfront for centuries. It’s a strange spectacle – women writhing in windows, while hundreds gawk in curiosity and desire. The scene is made all the more surreal by the tower of Oude Kerk (built 1306) looking down from on-high. This is the heart of the old city, and nearby also stand De Waag, Nieuwmarkt, and other medieval locales.
Not far from here is the Begijnhof, a line of homes surrounding a large courtyard completely cut off from the rest of the city. Dating from some time around the Black Death, it was a home for widowed and single women of the church who, while not sequestered nuns, did charitable works and took vows of chastity. When we passed through, the morning before leaving, there was a soprano duo singing at the altar of the church here – – piano and crystal clear singing. Sobering and sublime.
(SCROLL DOWN FOR A HISTORY OF AMSTERDAM)
Amsterdam had one of the greatest runs in history. It’s a relatively new city- settled around the 1200’s, when the Amstel River was dammed. (The place of “The Dam” still exists). It remained relatively obscure for a few centuries, and so, was never a center of Medieval culture, and thus, never firmly established the feudal institutions and extreme religion of that age.
The city didn’t rise to prominence until after 1588, when the Dutch Republic drove out the Spanish Empire during the Eighty Years War. As the first modern Republic, it was not bound by a totalitarian religious and political regime. Its policy of relative religious freedom drew in Europe’s misfits- Huguenots, Jews, and traders and artists driven out of the cities of Southern Netherlands (modern Belgium), especially from the formerly prosperous Antwerp.
Its policy of free trade inspired the city to become an economic powerhouse- the first major mercantile city of the Modern era. It spread its influence far and wide, establishing bases and colonies in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. At its height, it was the most prosperous city on Earth. The magnitude of the city’s wealth at this time can still be seen along the canal rings, where the houses of the merchant class still stand proudly. Its stock market, founded in 1602, is the oldest continually operating exchange in the world. Accordingly, it was also an intellectual and artistic center of Europe- the home of painters such as Rembrandt, and philosophers such as Spinoza.
In 1609, the Dutch West India Company, one of two major arms of Dutch trade, hired the English explorer, Henry Hudson, to find a northerly route to Asia. Instead, he found the American river that still bears his name. In 1624, on an island where that river meets the sea, a colony was established called New Amsterdam, which eventually became a city that had its own unprecedented run in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Dutch only held New Amsterdam for a few decades, but the similarities between the mother and its child are striking. Historical Amsterdam is huddled around a ring of canals and has a bustling, congested feel, full of pedestrians, trams, cars, and bicycles darting here and there. In its heyday, the city was the preeminent commercial city of the world, much as New York was in its prime. Amsterdam drew the misfits of the world under a spirit of openness, much like NYC has done. As an artistic and intellectual center, it is home to world-class museums and orchestras, as well as ambitious and successful artists. The two cities also draw a constellation of tourists.
During the summer I posted on the World’s Fair Grounds which hosted the worldwide exposition in 1939 and in 1964:
These are some photos from my most recent excursion:
Check it out:
– A feature I wrote. Cool site too…
Brussels is a hard one to explain, especially after staying only a few days. But sometimes a first impression can be most revealing…
Unlike the other cities we visited in Belgium and the Netherlands, Brussels is not quite bursting with a sense of history. Other than the phenomenal Grand Place, the majority of historic sites are scattered further afield – and everything that lies in between the major points of interest is wholly unattractive- swaths of uninspired 20th century office blocks, ugly residential streets, etc.
At first, I thought it a grumpy city, with a lot of reeling, half-belligerent drunks. On our first night, there was a street brawl right on the Grand Place. West Side Story shit… a bunch of inebriated teenagers kicking the crap out of each other. The drinking culture in Brussels definitely gives the city a bit of an edge.
But, actually, I find it more a tired city than a grumpy one- a reluctant capital of sorts. Wearily carrying the weight of a history that was never really its own. And the weight of a present that is not exactly its own. The Brussels of the past belonged to the heavyweights of Europe. The Brussels of the present seems to belong predominantly to the European Union, NATO, and hoards of tourists. If there is a vibrant native urban culture, it is very well hidden, for the residents seem to be turned inward.
Beyond all the international hubbub, Brussels seems to be a very large provincial town, segregated by neighborhood. People tend to keep to their own, whether it be in the Arab community around Gare du Midi, the opulent buildings along Boulevard Anspach, or the African community near the Royal Palace. Even the tourists do not spread too far afield from the city center. This certain lack of cosmopolitanism is striking for a capital city.
In the past, this provincialism was especially true in working-class Marolles, a fiercely individualistic neighborhood dating from the Middle Ages, which, until very recently, even had its own dialect (Bruxellois- a hybrid of French and Dutch). A fiercely proud neighborhood battered in the 19th century by the urban development plans of a megalomaniac monarchy with imperialistic designs.
The final blows to the old Marolles are underway. Gentrification spreading south from the nearby center is overtaking the area once and for all- another piece sliced off of Brussels’ native character.
……. Of course, there are always exceptions.
And here, thankfully we found quite a few.
I came to Brussels for the history and beer. I got both in great abundance- The rest was somewhat weary and sad- a confused, frustrated city shrinking from the international spotlight.
Porte de Hal:
Hallepoort in Dutch.
The sole surviving gate of the 2nd set of defensive walls built around Brussels in the 14th century, La Porte de Hal dates from 1381.
It faces the adjacent city of Halles and one can still see part of the moat built in front.
If the builders of this structure were to see such a thing as the plane in this picture streaking across the sky, one can only imagine the mortal panic that would ensue, especially only a generation or so after the Black Death.
History of Le Grand Place-
Le Grand Place, or Grote Markt, is undoubtedly the prime attraction of Brussels. There has been a market here since the 900’s, when a fort was constructed nearby on an island in the Senne (the city covered the river in the 19th century). As Brussels grew during the Middle Ages, the square became the focal point of the city, hosted many markets, and was the site of the public executions commonly associated with this era.
In 1695, a French army under Louis XIV bombarded Brussels in order to draw its enemies away from a siege at Namur, in the south of Belgium. A third of the city’s buildings were destroyed, including much of Le Grand Place. Within 4 years, however, members of Brussels’ mercantile guilds rebuilt the square in grand Baroque style- a testament to the city’s wealth. These guild halls, and the Hotel de Ville (which survived the attack, despite being a prime target), have made this square one of the most noted in Europe.