(By "box," I mean camera. The appellation doesn't work so well any more. Used to be, a camera was a "light-tight box." It was essentially an empty area between a lens and a piece of film, the primary duty of which was to keep light out. Now, of course, cameras are much more than boxes. But I still sometimes still call them that. Habit, I guess.)
A friend recently sent me a portrait of himself made with a Holga. A famous photographer had been assigned to make his portrait. At the end of the session, the famous photographer pulled out a Holga—a plastic camera that costs $29.99—and made a few exposures.
The Holga photograph* was beautiful. Exceptionally nice.
"A friggin' Holga," my friend said.
But, really, the only requirement of the box is that you like what it gives you. That's really all. If you don't like the pictures you won't like the camera. But if you dig the pictures, that's enough.
Making good pictures with "bad" cameras has always been a minor strain within photography, a hobby within the hobby. Masterpieces have been made with Holgas. There's a whole little Universe called "Lomography," which I'm only vaguely familiar with. Serious art projects have been done with toy cameras. There's a "community" for that, no doubt.
In art school I did a project with a Kodak Instamatic. The Instamatic sort of out-Holga'd the Holga (or its then-current equivalent, the Diana). It had a smaller negative and an even worse lens (the standard enlargements were very small, and lens flare is one form of contrast control). I used color neg film because that's all they made for it (it took drop-in cartridges, originally one of the Instamatic's innovations), then made black-and-white prints from the color negs. My project was called "the Great Pigeon Safari" and the requirement of the pictures was that they had to have a pigeon included. (Of course, being me, I couldn't limit myself to even that one basic condition.) All very tongue-in-cheek. Oddly enough, though, a number of the pictures were quite appealing. And it really did occur to me at the time that I could make that my "gimmick" and work that way permanently.
I didn't pursue it, though. As I later discovered, the reason for that was because I don't pursue anything—too many other things to try, and I'm too weak in the face of temptation—but even at the time there was a good reason: getting the color neg film developed was too expensive! It was cheaper to roll my own 35mm B&W film and develop it myself.
The takeaway: as long as you like what your camera is giving you, that's really all that matters. Beyond that, you really don't get much if any extra credit for anything.
*Unfortunately, he doesn't want it shown here. You win a few....
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Hugh Crawford: If you are going to speak of toy cameras you should read this interview with Nancy Rexroth. Nancy sort of owns that territory and has some interesting things to say about its current residents. It's interesting how much effort she made to maintain control of the process, where the Lomography people try to abdicate control to the camera just as much as high end point and shoot users.
"Aside from all that, the recurring urge to duct tape a photocopier lens to a cardboard box and take pictures with it is what keeps me paying for keeping all my darkroom equipment in storage. Holgas and Dianas always seemed way too expensive compared to thrift store Bakelite 120 cameras, especially since the former were about as rugged as a bowl of goldfish.
"The ability to reduce the Sony NEX to the equivalent of the back half of a box is what I love about it. By the way, old slide viewing loupes make excellent substitute Holga and Diana optics for use on a digital camera if you are into that sort of thing."