The Opposite of Digital Photography, Part Two

Right now on my desk sits the owner's manual for a Canon Digital Rebel XT. The book is maybe a quarter of an inch thick, listing in exhaustive detail how to use this camera's innumerable features -- from selecting the metering mode to cleaning the CMOS sensor. Not that I know what any of this means.

Four full pages are devoted to Safety Warnings and Handling Precautions, six to Nomenclature of the camera's various parts. By a conservative estimate — my own — it would take me roughly a year to become familiar with all the camera's various features and technological advancements. And I still wouldn't have any real photographic training.

And yet, and yet, I'm momentarily (and once again) more interested in a device that is decidedly less sophisticated than the Canon's neck strap -- a Holga 120S. Plastic lens, plastic body, rudimentary focusing ring, fixed aperture, fixed shutter speed. Oh, and it leaks light. It's a toy. In fact, as I said before, it's almost impossible to take a really "good" picture with a Holga, though many folks have come a lot closer than I have.

There's just so much uncertainty. It's difficult to even wind the film in the darned thing, let alone frame your subject with any degree of precision. You have to peek through a red plastic window on the back to know how many pictures you've got left. And you can only take 12, at least the way I loaded it, but it's with medium-format film that produces fun, square images and a lot of detail in the oversized plastic strip that comes back from the processing lab.

So why's it so fun? Probably because of the uncertainty. The adventure and discovery of snapping pictures with a piece of equipment that guarantees you imperfection and not much else -- well, that makes up for a whole list of inconveniences you'd be forgiven for assuming were outdated by now.

For example: I had to tape the film to the spool before it would wind in the camera body. Can do. I accidentally took one picture on this last roll with the lens cap on, and then advanced the film before noticing my mistake. Ha. I still had a few more pictures to go. When we flew to Florida, I had to have airport security wipe the camera down with their special little cloths instead of running it through their x-ray machine, which I imagined would have wrecked the film inside. Not a problem. When I get back the negatives from the photo lab, I have to scan them on Penny's computer -- using probably three thousand dollars worth of equipment to look at three dollars worth of film. And yet instead of irritating, this only amuses me.

And the results are so rough, so low-fi, so... analog, that you just can't help but love 'em. They make it look like your life is a whole lot more artful, I tell you. Where's the page in the Digital Rebel manual outlining *that* feature?

Now, I know there are Photoshop plug-ins that allegedly achieve this same look from a pristine digital photo. But I don't want to see them. For now I'm very satisfied making use of my antique piece of crap camera, (graciously provided by my friend Ryan, who's taken some outstanding images with it). It's really enjoyable to contract the services of something that has been obsolete since before I was born.

Now, if only I could find some discount expired film to go with it.

(And figure out why all my pictures come out blue. That part's actually getting a little annoying.)

You can click HERE to enjoy a few more.


Hello, I'm Ryan Noel. said...

Man, those images are enchanting. I especially love the first one (I could easily make space for that on one of my walls) and the ones of vince.

Thanks for reminding me how much I love shooting with the Holga. It's about time I take it off of my bookshelf, load the film stuck way in the back of my fridge behind the various jams, spreads, and yogurts, and get to shootin'.

Technosiren said...

psst - you can get Holga lenses attached to Canon lenscaps, so that your Digital Rebel uses a plastic toy lens. Mine is two years old and I probably shoot with it equally as much as my pro lens.


Ack, I just googled for the site and the guy has shut it down temporarily, so eBay or etsy would be a good place to look...or you can just make one, with an extra lenscap and a Holga camera. I KNOW I've seen instructions for it somewhere...