Thursday, May 01, 2008

Pondering Photography

May is here and that means Mother’s Day and my birthday. That makes two occasions for which a present may be received from my husband. I’m long overdue for something substantial. These won’t be holidays that presents are skipped, not this year.

I like my digital automatic focus camera with zoom lens. I carry it with me everywhere I go and I take lots of photos. However after taking literally thousands of photos I want something more. I miss my old SLR which allowed me to focus the camera. I miss the out of focus things in a photograph; I am tired of everything being in focus all the time. I am sick of having problems trying to take a photo of something close up and struggling with the automatic focus when it focuses on something other than the main object. I am sick of the slower shutter and the slow recovery time that makes me miss things that my children are doing or animals or other creatures.

I was thinking of getting a good digital SLR camera, probably one of the Canon EOS Rebels. I am overwhelmed by the choices. I don’t ‘get’ digital SLRs. I tried to do some research online but can’t find the answers to my questions. And I will admit that if a camera has a lot of books published just on how to use it makes me worry. I don’t want a camera that I have to read a whole book to learn how to take a decent shot.

Which brings me back to thinking about my old film camera. I still own my film SLR (a Minolta). I have different telescopic lenses for it, a macro lens, and a 28 mm (wider than normal) lens. I just inherited some more film cameras: a Konica SLR. A Minolta SLR. A Minolta Maxxim 7000 and a Minolta Maxxim xTi. I also have multiple lenses for those cameras, flash units, and a number of other accessories, and all the owner's manuals too.

Thinking back to artsy photos from old cameras, I have been reading about using an old Polaroid Land Camera, the SX-70 to make interesting transferred images with. I just inherited a camera case, a flash unit, and an instruction manual for one of those but not the camera. My husband informs me when he was a child he accidentally broke it. Those cameras are selling used on eBay for over $100 (wow). I have just inherited a Polaroid Spectrum camera with one unused film cartridge. I don’t know if I can do the transfers with that film type and with that camera. That is something else I tried to investigate on the Internet but so far can’t find the answer. I bought a book on Polaroid Transfers and can’t find the answer in there, yet. I have not had time to read that book cover to cover, so maybe the answer is buried somewhere in there.

Through an alternative art magazine, Teesha Moore’s Art & Life, about two years ago, I learned about lomography’s site (technically it is called the Lomographic Society). Teesha’s husband Tracey is into lomography and he wrote the article. The article taught me that artsy people are using old and new plastic toy cameras to make interesting photographs with. I have been pondering the idea of jumping into that hobby of ‘lomography’. I should mention in case you don’t know that the Lomography site also provides web space for members to upload photos (they call that a Lomohome). There are many ways to view and search for photos such as searching by city name and type of camera or type of image. There is a message board for networking and chatting and they also have a big conference for members to attend and meet up.

The fantastic photographs by Angela Cartwright I found out are usually made with photographs from a vintage Holga camera. In her book which I read cover to cover recently, “Mixed Emulsions” all of my favorite images were made with her Holga. The Holga’s images are with 120 film and produce 3x3 inch photographs. You have to buy the film from specialty Internet sites and unless you are going to develop the film yourself you have to pay about $10 per roll and send them through the mail to get developed.

The Holga is just one of what people are calling toy cameras. It is a plastic camera that sold for dirt cheap back in the 1960s when it was invented. The light leaks in the body, the defects in the plastic lenses and other quirks make the images surprising because they don’t look like ‘real life’. The images can wind up looking blurred or having light streaks on them. Some parts can be in focus while others are not. I love the idea of taking a photograph and finding the surprise when the developed film is seen. I actually loved that part of all the film photography that I used to do.

Lomography is selling new copies of the old Holga’s and new Diana cameras too. I just read a review with comparison photos and I think the vintage Diana makes better photographs than the new one. So now I am on the lookout for a vintage, working Diana. I spent some time checking completed auctions on eBay. I see some noted the camera was tested and works. Now I worry that a camera without that statement might not work at all—especially those marked “sold as is” ----it would really stink to buy one for about $50-65 and have it not work.

But first, before I even peeked at eBay, I began making rounds to local thrift shops when I was near some. After many trips with nothing being found, I bought six in one day. All were either 50 cents or $1. All are not battery operated which allows for multiple exposures or overlapping images across two negatives. Two are Diana knock-off’s, two are 35 mm panoramic cameras and two are 35 mm basic cameras. I have also kept my eyes peeled for a Polaroid SX-70, the Holga and the Diana but so far have not found any.

I also own a new camera I bought almost 20 years ago but never used. It takes 4 images in a grid pattern all separated by some fractions of a second, and it has no flash. I paid $10 for that in a mail order catalog back then. That is similar to the new Lomo Action Sampler without flash, which sells for $40 new. So you can compare the old prices to the new cameras developed to meet this new trend. Just as the old Diana’s sold for $1, now the new Diana sells for $60.

I decided before I buy a new or a vintage used camera I need to know a little bit more. I have been trying to read websites but am not getting much information. So using my Amazon commissions from my blog’s Amazon Associates account I bought “Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity” by Michelle Bates. This discusses toy camera photography and then it moves on to tips for using the Holga. It arrived yesterday so I began reading it immediately and already learned that the professional artists usually develop their own black and white and color films and some create custom made frames for their images. Now this end of the extreme has me wondering if lab developing is even worthwhile.

For the record I am stating publically I am not pondering getting into developing my own film. I did learn to do that in a Photography 100 class in college but I just don’t want to ‘go there’ mostly so that I am not exposed to the chemicals and also because our home does not have proper ventilation. So I reject that part of what some photographers are doing with printmaking from their toy cameras.

I am awaiting delivery of another book that discusses the many toy cameras on the market, called "The Toycam Handbook". That book from what I can tell explains what all the different toy cameras are like. It has galleries of photographs as well.

Today out of curiosity I checked while at Wal Mart and they did have a few toy film cameras. One was a soft jelly plastic Barbie camera with a roll of film and a battery for $13. Another was a Disney princess camera with film and battery for $13. They were sold out on the Fisher Price toy camera. Note they each took a battery so it is not hand wound so double exposures are not possible. They also had flashes. I didn’t buy any. Starting at $20 there were low pixel toy digital cameras as well. At least with the film cameras the quality of the print is higher.

I then thought if that is all that we need then why not use disposable cameras. A four pack of a cheap brand with flash sold for $8.88. If one wants to modify the disposable camera to make the lens do something funkier, they can. Here is one set of directions for modifying a disposable camera.

I don’t quite know what to do. I’m not sure if a $450 really good digital SLR is what I really want. I want to do funky fun photos. Toy cameras, especially the Holga or a Diana would do the trick—but then I am saddled with the cost of film and developing (total would be about $20 per roll for both things from what I found on the Internet). I have one more book on toy cameras on its way to me.

I think I will hold off from buying a new expensive digital SLR for now (even if I end up not having a gift on Mother’s Day or my birthday), and I will read up more on toy cameras. I’ll keep checking at thrift shops for a Holga or a Diana (I’m not holding my breath). In the mean time I guess I can fool around with the cameras I already own that take 35 mm film and get that developed at Costco.

Oh and last month on Freecycle I was the happy recipient of some 120 film and some 35 mm film. I figured that I could use that in my experiments.

I’m also going to see if I can find a local camera shop so a human can explain the in’s and out’s and the pro’s and con’s of digital SLRs. There are not many around me so that may involve a 45 or 60 minute drive (not very convenient). However I do feel like I’m getting ripped off to buy the camera from the local shop when the difference between their price and Amazon’s price is $150 (on the model I’m looking at).

And lasty while I ponder this I could spend hours and hours on the Internet viewing images taken by photographers with Holga, Diana and other plastic and toy cameras. Between the Lomo site and Flickr I could just scroll and scroll and scroll and never get around to actually making my own photographs!


Lomographic Society (Lomography) (You can buy new Lomo cameras on this site.)


Light Leaks magazine of low technology photography (link from this home page)

article: Reloading and Adapting Single-Use (Disposable) Cameras By Howard Wells

One example of a double exposed photograph from the lomography site

Gallery of winners of the 2007 Krappy Kamera competition (New York City)

Holga camera Wikipedia page

Diana camera Wikipedia page

Angela Cartwright’s Art webpage

Holga info and links on LitFoto site

Amazon sells new Lomography cameras also and sometimes less expensive than on the Lomography site:

Technorati Tags: , , , , .

1 comment:

Joyce said...

Hi Chris-
The problem with Polaroid transfer is that the last of the film was made at the end of 2006. Outside of the outragious prices on Ebay it is impossible to find. Older film may be unusable because the battery in the film pack may be expired. I hope this helps. I also came to love this technique just a little too late. You would love the Holga and Diana.