Twenty five years ago it was the Diana; today it’s the Holga that has become the alternative camera of choice. Lens distortion, light leaks, lack of sharp focus, vignetting and other anomalies make the end result of any photographic shoot unpredictable. It is these inherent problems in this twenty dollar medium-format plastic camera that make it so much fun to use. In this day when we strive for perfection in technology it is ironic that so many amateurs and professionals alike are drawn to the charm of this simple, unintimidating, inexpensive toy. Perhaps it is rebellion against precise technology or simply a desire to recapture the thrill of seeing things in a fresh way that have elevated this camera to cult status.
I was introduced to the Holga last fall at a continuing education class at our local art college. We were led through the process of converting our Holga to a 6x6cm square format and were given tips on minimizing light leaks. We loaded the 120 film and were ready to shoot. I was skeptical about what I would capture with this camera but I was also intrigued by all the possibilities. I had worked in 35mm rectangular format for twenty five years and now because of the square format I was forced to change the way I looked at everything around me. After seeing the results of my first roll of film I fell head over heels in love with the Holga and the spontaneity, freedom and creativity this camera inspires.
Of course the same basic principals of good composition and design apply to using the Holga as with any form of art. The Holga however makes composition more challenging because the viewfinder is not accurate in revealing what will be captured on the negative. Double exposures occur in direct proportion to the inability to remember to wind the film forward and some of the mistakes turn out great. Each Holga is unique in its characteristics and flaws so most photographers working with this camera own several. Experimenting with a few rolls of film is the only way to come to know your Holga and its specific idiosyncrasies. The Holga is available over the internet and there are many web sites that offer full instructions for modifying its format and managing light leaks. So buy one…or two…or three and start having some fun!