For a blog that purports to be about analogue photography in a digital world, I haven’t had a lot to say about film photography yet. Well, I’ll start to remedy that by talking a little about my favourite camera, the Holga 120CFN.
The Holga is a cheap plastic box of a thing. It has a one-element, meniscus style plastic lens. It falls apart easily, lets light in and is generally awkward and flakey. I don’t know how it came to be. It seems to be a reverse-engineering of the Agfa Click (Holgafans, go google this and see if you agree). It truly is badly engineered, and looks a bit like a cartoon camera. Yet, I love it. When it works properly, and when due care is taken, it actually produced beautiful images with a lot of character.
In October I took my Holga to the Yeppoon Pineapple Festival. Something about the Holga aesthetic really matches this kind of small-town event. The Holga images are a little sketchy, a little rough around the edges, a little fuzzy and friendly. Just right to convey an image of community spirit, which my little town certainly has.
Of course, the Holga is not a precise tool. While this “community” photo is not great technically, it’s at the high end of the scale in terms of Holga image quality.
Here’s another Holga shot of the event, a little fuzzier, but still fairly regular.
I like this image, and I hope you do too. But wouldn’t it be dull if it were a regular digital photo?
Of course, while it was shot on a Holga, it is still a digital image. It began with film, but once the film is developed and scanned, it’s a digital workflow. In truth, to make anything good from a Holga using purely analogue techniques would take a lot of darkroom skills – which I don’t have. With a film scanner, all you need is a dark bag, a Paterson tank and some chemicals. Once the Holga shot is scanned, you then need to apply a lot of digital technique to get pleasing result.
While I like the Holga when all goes well, it can be even more fun when it doesn’t. Unless you are very careful, it is easy to spoil a roll of film. The Holga takes medium format 120 film, which is not protected by a cartridge as is 35mm, but rather is a roll of film very lightly protected by a layer of paper backing. You have to exert a lot of force to get an exposed roll out of a Holga, and it is easy to lose your grip and see the film unwind in the sun. Sometimes the spool is loose on the reel, and sun gets in top and bottom. Even when this happens, it is worth developing the roll. Sun damage turns the Holga photographic (Holgagraphic?) process into a different and exciting process of editing from a long roll of imagery, some of which you have created, some of which is a pure result of sun, film chemistry and accident.
In these circumstances the choices you make in Photoshop are even more important. Postprocessing ceases to be a corrective phase, and becomes the main artistic process.
I like the idea of randomness, the idea of art as a kind of collecting. Perhaps I like a kind of anonymity an a downplaying of authorial intention in the work I create. I always liked the way that Portishead created whole records from which to sample and scratch, so I think it’s a bit broader than artistic shyness.
I also think I’m better at spotting and selecting beauty than I am at creating or staging it, and sometimes this very hybrid, multilayered post-digital photographic process can yield some sublime imagery. I’ll close with one from my Pineapple Festival shoot that is much better than what I was aiming for.