These are my Holgas, there are many like them, but these two are mine…
You’re responsible for my first experience using film bigger than 35mm, you changed me forever, I want you to know that…
Before I met you, I was a different type of photographer:
I was uptight
I was dogmatic and rigid
I made my photographs a certain way, with a certain type of camera. It had worked for me for over ten years, and I hadn’t planned on changing anytime soon. Until I returned to college in 2004 to pursue a BFA in Photo, and you were a requirement for my intermediate photo class. You were boxy and plastic, you felt cheap, hell you looked cheap.
You were also uncompromising, you asked me to do a lot but you gave me so little to work with:
- one shutter speed (1/100 of a second – which wasn’t always 100% accurate)
- “two” apertures
- zone focus
- a wide angle plastic lens that I couldn’t change
- and you weren’t light tight, all sort of weird leaks always made their way onto the film, so much that taping you up with black gaffer tape was just an excepted ritual to prepare a new out of the box Holga to shoot its first roll of film
You asked me to let go, let go of that sense of control, of those set in ways that I had. Besides, you didn’t have a range of 8 f-stops, you didn’t have a shutter speed of 1/2000, you didn’t need to make sure you were in perfect focus.
You weren’t about all that technical minutiae
You were about feeling the photo
The motto that was frequently associated to you and your similarly equipped brethren was “Don’t think just shoot”. I always hated that saying because it made everyone who chose you to make their work look as if they didn’t have a clue of what they were doing. And some didn’t, to them you were just an inexpensive toy to have fun with, and that’s okay. If there’s one thing missing in photography these days it’s fun.
But there were others, many others who saw the uniqueness of the photos you produced as the element they needed to create their statement to the world. Those hazily sharp / unsharp images could be interpreted as a dream, or a nightmare; there was always that additional layer of meaning that the viewer was confronted with. Maybe that’s why people either loved or hated the photos you made, you weren’t a tool that made literal photographs.
I bonded with you immediately, you were that fresh start that I didn’t know I needed. I was hooked from that first roll of Tri-x. Soon, you were all I wanted to shoot with. Maybe it was those larger negatives, maybe it was the freedom I felt when I was photographing with you.
Now the news is that more of you are going to be produced. The factory in China that manufactured you just up and destroyed and scrapped all their machinery. All retailers informed Holga fans that once their stock was gone, that was it. That’s a shame, you were the perfect teaching tool in today’s progressively digital world. Who knows how many more generations of artists you could have influenced… We had over 30 years with you, but that wasn’t long enough. Now, you’ve been relegated to a footnote in the history of film photography, a victim of the massive digital photo industry that won’t seem to stop until it’s consumed all that is analog, after all film is now a niche, and the Holga was the nichest of niches….
Me? I’ve neglected you over the past couple of years. When I load up to go shoot, I see you lying there, a thin layer of dust starting to settle over you. You’ve been waiting for me to load you with film. To continue working on that project we were so excited about years ago. And I pause for a moment, thinking about all the photos I’ve made over the last ten years with you.
I think that just two years ago, we were on our way to Chicago for me to attend my very first professional portfolio review, and the looks of some of the reviewers and fellow photographers when I opened my print box to reveal eighteen carefully selected 11×14 photos we had made together. We heard some positive feedback, and some negative. Of course that’s always to be expected, you’re an acquired taste and not everyone loves your flavor.
You taught me, to let go. Frame it loose. If I had second thoughts about the photo I was about to shoot, shoot it anyway. Film in the grand span of things, is cheap. I don’t often wonder about what kind of photographer I would be now if I never would have been forced to use you. Would I have eventually found my way to you?