PLAYSTICK is a section dedicated to “toy camera” photography. The name Playstick comes from a well known simplified male figure illustration called Play Stick. The name also contains the word plastic as an association to plastic (or toy) cameras like Diana, Holga, Lomo LC, Lubitel, and others.
The so-called “toy cameras” are usually inexpensive film cameras, usually made of plastic (and often with plastic lenses), dating back to 1960s, when such cameras were often used as giveaways or prizes, or sold in drugstores near tourist sites. Most of the “toy cameras” of this era used medium format film, as it was less expensive than the 35mm film. The popularity of such medium format toy cameras among the more serious photographers started with the Diana camera in the 1970s in the USA (cf. Nancy Rexroth, “Iowa”, 1976).
The Diana was a plastic bodied, simple camera which used 120 format (medium format) film. By the end of the 1970s, however, the production of Diana cameras has already stopped, but other companies in Hong Kong and Taiwan continued to make similar cameras. The most famous of these Diana successors is by far the Holga camera: even more rudimentary than Diana, it has no aperture selection and only one shutter speed. The Holga was originally intended as a low-cost mass-produced “camera for the working class” in China. There were other similar cameras used in various parts of the world: in Europe (Germany), the popular models were the bakelite Agfa Click (6×6 negative format on medium format film) and Agfa Clack, which was a bit more “sophisticated” camera, offering 6×9 negative format on 120 film and a rudimentary “close focus” (1-3m). It could be said that all these cameras are continuation of the box camera philosophy/concept, i.e. the famous Kodak slogan: “You press the button, and we’ll do the rest”.
There were other, more sturdy medium format amateur cameras, which are by todays’ standards also “toy cameras”, but which are capable of producing surprisingly good photos, like various Kodak or Ansco models, or the long-gone Dacora, Bilora, Halina, Certo, etc. – including again various Agfa models, aimed at more advanced amateurs.
Another impetus for the popularity of toy cameras was the emergence of the “Lomographic Society”, a photography movement started with the marketing of Russian-made Lomo 35mm camera in Western Europe: although somewhat different in the commercial approach and technique, it nevertheless proved to be a significant marketing force which contributed to widespread and worldwide use of the “toy cameras”.
The toy cameras usually also have a number of faults, as perceived by traditional photographers: the resulting photos are often unsharp and blurry, the lenses usually vignette (giving the resulting image its characteristic dark corners), and the cameras themselves are often prone to light leaks due to sloppy manufacturing standards (or the absence thereof). However, for the photographers using the toy cameras it is precisely these shortcomings which give their photographs a certain artistic, or pictorialist, effect. The Lomography movement in particular embraced the unpredictability of the toy cameras and welcomed chance as a crucial element of the Lomography aesthetics, embodied in their slogan “Don’t think, just shoot!”.
It can be said that nowadays the toy camera aesthetic has become a legitimate artistic photography expression, perhaps even as a backlash against the sterile technical perfection offered by the modern auto-everything digital cameras.
“The Holga camera has been my muse since 1991. My artistic vision has developed with the Holga as my main window to the world, and I try to apply it not just to the fun and quirky subjects that Holgas are so good at capturing, but to other, perhaps less obvious, ones as well. Over the past 10 years, I’ve loved the opportunity to share the world of plastic cameras with many others through talks, workshops, and my book “Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity..”
“I love toy cameras for their simplicity and technical imperfection.
They allow me to rely more on intuition. I accept the probability of a mistake in advance and boldly experiment with multiple exposures, light leaks, random overlapping, and so on.
I let things happen in a frame, and sometimes it works.”
“Many times I’m not looking to make a clear and sharp rendition of a scene. Like making a photograph of a memory. That’s when I like using low-tech cameras, because of the soft focus and vignetting. I also like the fact that I can bring one of my plastic cameras into the ocean without the worry of dropping it in the water. This selection of photos was made using a Holga, Asiana or original Diana camera with 120 roll film.”
“The images are from an ongoing project on Dublin, Ireland, often affectionately referred to as the “Dirty old town project.” I create dark moody images on film of the Dublin cityscape and landscape. A lot of the images are made in low, winter light, which is my favorite time to shoot. The camera of choice is nearly always the Holga in these situations, a cheap plastic camera with a soft lens that gives a central sharpness and some dark edge vignetting.”
“The images come from trips around New England as well as Texas, the Netherlands, and France. I work intuitively, responding to the language and geometry of the urban landscape. I am not looking to create accurate snapshots of my travels; rather, I rely on the randomness and unpredictability of my toy cameras and often decades-old expired film to produce abstractions of the real world, creating blurred, off-center, imaginary landscapes.”
“The project started in the mid 2000s with my extremely talented photographer friend Janet Penny. I had no experience with photography at the time, and she taught me to not worry about the mechanics, theories, and practices and to just go out and shoot. What better camera to start with than an old Holga? The website was born as a way to encourage practice.”
“The idea behind the project developed some time ago, when I watched the Qatsi’s trilogy by Godfrey Reggio. I then modified my toy camera, a Holga 120, to make panoramic photos. In Unstructured_City, I superimpose, overlap, decompose and deconstruct cityscapes while I’m photographing. By doing this, I’m able give them another meaning and a different vision from reality, with the focus on the modern human being and his supposed progress.”
“As an artist, I think some of the most creative results come from the early stages of discovery and experimentation. I strive to not force the art and let it come when the moment is right. I carry a large camera bag full of a variety of cameras with the intention of constantly challenging my approach and diversifying my results. I experiment with different brands of film, filters, and lenses and attempt to break as many “rules” as possible. ”
"These photos started as a project I could easily do at home with my kids. My daughters enjoyed dressing up, and we liked to draw and act out scenes for the camera. We enjoy reading fairy tales and other classic fiction like Alice in Wonderland. While oftentimes these stories come with illustrations, it is always fun to interpret them on your own and draw out your own version."
My work is oriented toward photography with plastic lens cameras, lenses imperfect and not always clear, as well as towards experimentation with film and alternative photographic processes.
I also fabricate my own cameras and lenses with the purpose of finding artistic expression connected to onirism, the automatic creation, the simplicity of forms, and all that is fertile to live by within itself, with its own identity and personality.
"I’m drawn to toy camera photography because the images that these cameras produce feel more like a distant memory than a record of reality. The Holga has the ability to capture the world the way it is felt by the heart rather than how it is seen with the eyes. For me, this idea brings a romance back into photography that I can’t experience with digital cameras. "
"I prefer to use toy cameras when photographing my son, primarily Holgas and Diana clones. The cameras themselves can seem silly and trivial, letting my son relax and be natural. The inherent quirks in these plastic cameras are echoes of our relationship, and the minimal controls allow me to be more in the moment. "
"On The Surface is a new and ongoing body of work that explores my feelings of deception and abandonment. The recent discovery and diagnosis of a life-threatening illness for a beloved family member, along with the realization that the illness had gone unnoticed for some time, has forced me to look at my life and my work in a new way. These images of abandoned homes are digital composites made from Holga negatives to intentionally deceive the viewer. How the deception manifests itself is left to the personal history, emotions, and imagination of the individual viewing the image."
"I love the simplicity; there is so little control. I have to adjust my thinking, instead of shutter/aperture combinations. It takes photography back to its basic concept. Holga photos have a certain ethereal and retro quality to the images. I primarily shoot black and white and love the softness combined with the graininess and contrast."
"My choice in subject matter hasn’t changed much over the years. And I rarely ever go out with the intension of shooting something specific. I just load up my camera, go out, and shoot whatever I see. Nowadays, I choose my Holga more often than not because I really like medium format and the dark corners give an image an almost haunting or ethereal quality."
"I was introduced to photography in 2007 as I started traveling on my own through several remote countries. Three years later I developed my skills with analog plastic cameras to intensify the impression of world’s wild places by experimental double exposures and jazzy cross processing, which give them an absolutely unique touch | Ute Kranz, Germany."
„The biggest challenge for me is not quite knowing what I’m going to capture. Because the viewfinder only gives you an approximate idea of what you’re going to get, it took me a while to figure out how to compensate for the parallax error and, also, how to get the correct focus. And, of course, each camera is different.“
"My work is very conceptual, so I’m not someone who shoots every day, and because I lean towards shooting series, it takes a while to plan the shots and gather all the props and costumes. I like to shoot as few frames as possible, so everything is very thoughtout and planned before I even load a roll of film."
"Anywhere that I suspect people are having a good time or, in some cases, a meaningful time, I believe there are pictures to be made. I don’t have to necessarily be inside of or even agree with the nature of the groups in question. It is enough that they are in it together, and I find that interesting."
"I’ve been a photographer since the day my father gave me his argus 35 mm camera when I was 12 years old. I fell in love with photography and was rarely without a camera in my teen years. It was how I felt most comfortable, as I was fairly shy, so I used my camera as a social tool to fit in with my high school classmates by taking pictures of them for our school yearbook. By then I had graduated to a Nikon with an actual internal light meter. I spent many hours in our high school dark room and I still have a lot of of the photos I printed back then.
I started using “toy cameras” when I met Aline Smithson, a fellow toy camera photographer, who suggested I might like shooting with a Holga. So I bought a Holga at Freestyle, put it in my camera bag and took it to Seattle on the trip I take every summer with my kids to visit their cousins. I shot several rolls of film on that trip - that camera was not modified in any way, and not taped. I had no idea what I was doing. Several of images from “The Edge of Innocence” were on the last roll of film that I shot on that trip."
He was not one of the attendants of Hoyka’s photo academy :)
Last year he volunteered in building the elementary school in Nepal, he taught English to the future Tibetan monks in a temple in Tibet. In June he takes off for New York, to work on the NYFD project - documentary photography of the lives of the New York firefighters. For that project he has personally designed and made business cards which are burned. “Making of” can be seen at the following link:
In July he will be on the expedition in the far away Indonesia, he will photograph dragons on the Komodo island, cannibals on Papua New Guinea, tribes on Borneo... In 90 % of the cases he uses only cheap plastic cameras. He adores the Polaroids. Currently working as a photographer for Disney Cruise Line.
"Once I saw in a magazine holga pictures and fell in love with the process right away. When I found where to buy this toy camera, I started to shoot everything that appealed to me. The splashing colors due to light leaks revealed to me a world at the edge of reality, a world like we see in our dreams. Shooting with the holga camera turned quickly to be a joyful research that moves you away from the dull reality. Just like a therapy would bring you to a better life. Hence came the title of this work : TherapyH, where the H stands for Holga!"