Starting with Toys: My Foray into Medium Format

Toy cameras– the Holga specifically– are known for their imperfections. Light leaks abound and the only way to harness them is by duct-taping the camera body. Holgas only have one aperture setting, two shutter speeds, and no way to focus. Plus, they imprint a characteristic dark halo around every photograph.

So what is appealing about a camera that technically ties your hands and occasionally produces unintelligible images?

Holgas allow me to hone in on particulars that I can control. Framing the shot around the light leaks I know will appear and challenging myself to find subject matter that benefits from soft focusing are two ways the Holga brings me clarity.

Also, Holgas are versatile and can be taken many places I wouldn’t take my digital SLR or a beloved film camera. At $30 a pop, they are a lot like disposable cameras (except they are medium format and have more options with filters, flashes, etc). I’m not too concerned if I bring one along with me and something happens to it. Many times, accidents with the Holga simply add more character to the pictures.

Because I feel no fear of damage when using a Holga and because of its size as well as its versatility in lighting situations (its a lot like a pinhole, plus you can do multiple exposures and use different colored flashes), I tend to bring it with me more often than I would my other cameras.

Yes, the results can sometimes still be unpredictable, but when working with the Holga, as well working with other equipment, you adapt to its challenges and opportunities and begin to make consistent yet still inventive photographs.

Here’s some samples from a roll of 12 I shot at a garden. The characteristic halo, soft focus, and light leaks are evident in most of the shots. However, I feel like shooting this same garden with more precise and advanced technology would take a lot away from the mood and timelessness the Holga affords.

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