Holga, Holga... sweet, sweet Holga. With the level of love I have for these images Holga will be the name of my third child.
I became intruiged by Holga after perusing galleries on Flickr. But just like with most films and cameras that spark an interest, I see forms that compel me, but rarely the content to match. That was how I got started on SX-70 - seeing flowers and adult portraits and thinking, "photographs of children would be incredible in this form." So also with Holga.
For those new to this camera, it's plastic. It feels like a cloud in your hand. It makes you feel like nothing can possibly be happening when you press the shutter. Which is a loud tink before you manually advance the film. It has less heft than a disposable, if you can picture it. It's called a toy camera for a reason.
Have you seen that documentary about rock 'n roll with The Edge, Jack White and Jimmy Page? The Edge is the technician; equivalent in photographer terms to the gear-head with eight lenses for photographing the bald eagle that passes over an obscure rock formation 80 miles from his house once a year. It's about the detail. He is master of form. Jimmy Page is the soulful one. Like a traditional, old-school film shooter, he feels the ins and outs in his bones. He understands the blacks and whites, dodging and burning. He is the old dog. And then there's Jack.
Jack shares a bit about his background (coming from of a family of 10 kids) and how thrift and ingenuity were central to his self-described low-income background in Detroit. It formed in him a passion for sound made on completely elemental objects. Remember making a guitar from string and a tissue box in kindergarten? He's that dude. And as a photographer Jack White would be using old brownies (he probably does), box cameras, and definitely, absolutely a Holga.
Although it does have a few manual controls, its a point and shoot. You the artist are dependent entirely on your eye, your heart and your skill to produce a photograph. There are crude, wonderful symbols atop the lens of one person, three people, a group and a mountain. Hard to mess up. As a maker, I absolutely thrive in these conditions. I love constraint. I love the nausea (yes nausea) of shooting film, especially knowing I only have 12 frames (or 10 in this case, because I accidentally overwound it at the start).
I once read in an Instagram post from a mother, "I am proud of how we are raising our kids." The thought was straightforward and beautiful. Pride in her work. I have tried to live in such a way where I can say that phrase to myself at the end of the night. Like life, it waxes, it wanes. I have found the same to be true with my work. But I am aiming for that goal, to be able to say: I am proud of the work I made. I feel that way with this roll, and for that I am grateful.
I took a different approach with this set. I asked a friend if I could photograph her daughter and paid her in flowers and gummy snacks. I made a shot list, half of physical starting points (like hands up or hugging yourself) and half of emotional states (small in a big world, light and shadow). Working this way draws out an entirely different skill set than I ever developed with digital. Of course the great benefit of digital is being able to click away, being highly responsive to your environment almost as though you're shooting video. A blessing and a curse.
With film I have a different workflow. I intend. The work is not documentary, it is not reactive. It is composed. A specific end is sought. One of my husband and my's favorite movies is Ratatouille (we love animation, okay?) in which the antagonist (a food critic) says, "If I don't love it, I don't swallow." Not only is that a good modus operandi in life generally but is also my filmic philosophy. If the composition is not perfect, I do not press the shutter. Naturally, this causes quality to rise.
I remember watching an interview with well-known wedding photographer Jonas Peterson in which the interviewer asked him, "So what do you shoot for fun?" He replied with a smile, "weddings." I loved that answer! I saw the clip during a time when I was still shooting families on digital, clawing for a justification to keep going when I found it grating at best. I would soon realize that it was because shooting families gave me access to the thing I love to photograph: children.
During this shoot there was a moment when I saw the light coming through my subject's hair. How can I describe the feeling? If panic were a good thing. Not bliss, not inspiration. A must-move-fast elation. An electricity, a happy panic. Photographing children on film is what gives me this delight. I have been thinking about why. Because of the juxtaposition I think; the innocence of childhood with the grit of film. Their great potential and great vulnerability. And film's tactile, worldly roots. A visual diary of curse and promise.
Do you shoot Holga? As a new convert, I am on fire for it and will try to convince you if you don't. That is, if you like dream-like imagery. If you connect with imperfection, distortion and filmic vignetting. And if you use photography as a portal, not to another world but to the world we know most intimately: feeling.
A with love