On my Holga
In my junior year I took a course called “Alternative Processes.” I was PUMPED. It was the last true film class that Northeastern still offered, and it was supposed to be amazing. On the first day of class our professor handed out the syllabus (of course) and a huge list of the materials we would need. As a college student, my first thought was, “Crap. How much is this going to cost?” My second thought was, “Oh yay! We get to shoot with Holgas!” Now, I didn’t really know what a Holga was at that time, I just knew that I had heard of them as a classic that everyone loved, and picnik.com (RIP) used to have a Holga filter.
The professor cheerfully quoted the photographic community, paraphrasing Henry Ford, “You can get a Holga in any color you want, as long as it’s black.” Thankfully for my color loving self, this was no longer true. However, after a long time combing Amazon and B&H, and considering the current state of my wallet, I ended up not with my bright blue dream, but a color called “Sunset Blvd.”
(photo from http://www.everylittleeverything.com/home-page/2015/3/17/corey-317-holga-185-120-holgawood-120n-medium-format-camera)
It was from a “Holgawood” collection of colors, and it was frankly a little ugly. I loved it instantly. It added to the quirk and weirdness for me. I immediately started taking it apart. There wasn’t much to see, Holgas are plastic and mechanical, and have very few settings. It was fun to be able to actually watch the shutter click.
We were shooting in black and white for class, because that’s the only way to do most of the processes we were learning. And as I kept shooting and developing I got better. I learned that Holgas really do need a serious lot of light, after I took half a roll inside and they were all pitch black. I learned that the viewfinder is a guide; there’s no mirrors to have it reflect what the lens is seeing. I learned to check and double check my focus, since the viewfinder couldn’t. I took some truly awful pictures, but also some that I really loved.
After we learned how to make digital negatives, most people in the class never looked back. Our sad, leftover photo lab didn’t have an enlarger, and we had to pay to get the film developed off-campus. It was easier and more fun for everyone else to make nice big prints with a camera they could actually focus. But I loved my Holga. I loved the mystery of how my shots would come out, I loved the natural light leaks, I loved that I could hold this tiny 2.5 inch insight into what I was envisioning. I love that it drove me to be more creative. I challenged myself to take a panorama, when the camera only allowed for squares. I was always thinking “What if I did this?” “What if I don’t advance the film?” “Did I advance the film?” “What if I take this picture in cloudy mode?” “What if I did that?”
The tactility of making the prints myself was inspiring too. I could manipulate my art in so many new ways. In the camera, on paper. I could literally rip things up, I could manually copy and paste. I would take images with the idea of, “How can I do something crazy to this later on?”
Even after the class was over, I kept shooting with my Holga. I bought myself some color film and ran around with it all summer long.
My new device perplexed my friends and family. My brother took a picture of his chin because he thought he was clicking a toy camera. It made me love my Holga even more. Check out more of my film work here.