Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Holga Lost

Last Wednesday I woke up early, ready to go to work (with hopefully a short workday) and was puttering around on Twitter when I saw a tweet that was not being processed in my brain: Holga was no more. 

What??! This made no sense. I mean, people KNOW what the Holga is and have actually bought one in the last couple of years... some people even use it, even if they don't touch any other film cameras anymore. It's such a THING, whether you want to make fun of Hipsters or artists or people that don't just use the stupid instagram filter, many people have at least heard of the Holga. I frantically scoured the internet for any information and even took a trip that evening to Freestyle Photo in Hollywood, the source of the information where it was further confirmed both by conversations with employees and the signs posted all around the Holga displays, right near the doors, as always.

There's all sorts of things and ideas to jump to, but from what I understand, the situation is a little more confusing and frustrating than just "no one shoots film anymore." When it was announced the factory was shutting down, people immediately wanted to purchase the equipment to continue making the cameras, but it was already destroyed. Holga was created in the early 1980's in China and has been made there the entire time it has existed.

one of the first photos I shot with a Holga
Although I started shooting film in the late 1990's while in high school, I didn't pick up my first Holga until relatively recently in 2013 (some people say the Holga was their first camera in photography.... at my school we went even cheaper and made pinhole cameras out of whatever we wanted.) I first got into Medium Format film using a Yashica Mat, which was nice, but heavy. That's when I discovered toy cameras and how cheap and lightweight they were. My first was a Diana+ & I loved my medium format Diana, but I loved how much more durable the Holga felt (I once purchased the 35mm Diana and returned it before ever getting a full roll through it because it was malfunctioning and shredded film!) Just about a year ago I picked up my first 35mm Holga and I think I've shot somewhere close to 50 rolls of film with 35mm Holgas this year.

from my first 35mm roll in a Holga

One of the things I grew to love about the Holga was the idea that it was "disposable". This sounds terrible considering how much I love it, but it was more about the freedom than about literally tossing the camera in the trash when I was done with it. By knowing I could pick up this stupid camera that took crazy photos effortlessly and replace it for $40 or less, I didn't have to worry. I've now taken a few to Burning Man, a notoriously dusty, harsh place, because hey, there were tons of awesome things to photograph there and if a Holga got destroyed, no big deal! I never had to worry about keeping the batteries charged and the camera was so lightweight without electronics or batteries, it was easy to shove into my bags and forget it was there until I wanted it. There was no fiddling with on/off switches when it came time to shoot - just pull off the lens cap and go! And as a bonus, when I scanned the resulting photos, I had better photo quality and more authentic beautiful grain than in digital photos. I also had all sorts of special effects without putting any extra effort into it and every roll became it's own little surprise.

Despite all these conditions and weirdness, I really loved the photos that came from it. In some ways, it was my perfect camera. I had actually just started experimenting with trying to make some money back on the massive amounts I've spent on cameras, film & developing over the years by having some Christmas Cards printed up feature a Holga photo I shot last year and reopening my etsy shop. 

This is all on top of the freedom of embracing the camera as a constant experiment. How many times can I get away with exposing this? Who knows?! Will I get any light leaks or terrible reflections in the lens?! Who knows!  Did I really advance to the next frame? Does it matter?

That's why I find it to be ironic that one of the most terrible things about the Holga is when the country that originally made the camera finally decided to embrace my Holga philosophy and concluded that yes, the Holga was also disposable.


Seeing how this is processed by others is important and interesting to me so I've been constantly looking for stuff online. I know that this has definitely hit me like in death in ways complete with feelings of denial, angry and sadness. I don't look forward to the day when I don't really have the option of shooting film anymore because there's things about it that I'm not sure digital will ever completely "get". And I say this as someone that does shoot digital as well as works by day in technology. They both have their places, but I came back to film after not shooting it for a few years because digital as it turns out, wasn't always better. Shooting with film forces you to become a better photographer in ways that digital doesn't necessarily. When you have 12 exposures to a roll of film, shooting 100 photos is much less reasonable, especially since you don't have that instant feedback loop. Holgas further press you to embrace imperfection if you ever want the job done. Effects and composition are different things. Some of us can certainly learn to better embrace imperfection in a realm we normally add our own expectations of perfection.

If I step back and think, I had a feeling something was up with Holga. When I went to Burning Man this year, I thought about picking up an extra Holga 135, but finding them online already seemed a little more difficult. Some of the listings for Holgas on Amazon were labelled "Discontinued by Manufacturer". When I finally went to Freestyle Photo to get one, I asked the employee helping me if Holgas were going away due to my suspicions between the listings on Amazon and Freestyle themselves putting tons of Holga stuff on clearance, but they said no. I breathed a sigh of relief, purchased my new 135 Holga to replace the one that got messed up in the incredible dust storm at Burning Man this year and went on my way.

HolgaJen is hosting a post later this month with people's favorite Holga photos of 2015. I need to dig through mine and maybe scan some more in the next couple of weeks! I'm looking forward to seeing everyone elses as well, even if I wish it was happening under different conditions....

I'm trying to let this be more of a new stage in the life of Holga instead of it disappearing forever, but it's still hard. It's only been a week......

Past (and future) Holga posts by me can be found here.

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