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Embrace Lomography with the Holga 120n

It’s hard to identify what is so undeniably satisfying about picking up a cheap plastic camera and trying to shoot interesting photography. The lens is plastic. One of our cameras has a loose screw left inside by the manufacturer (we’ve nicknamed her “Tinkerbell”). And some of those plastic camera photographs just plain suck.

But most of those photographs don’t suck at all. Most have a surreal quality that you would be pressed to achieve on a factory perfect film or digital camera.

And plastic cameras have a great quality as physical objects. Light. Inexpensive. You wouldn’t think twice about dropping one into a zip-lock bag loaded with a $7 roll of 120 film and swimming out into the populated surf. What’s the worst that could happen to your camera? A new Holga 120n on Amazon is only going to cost you $30 plus around $8 shipping.

It means people can take chances. Even famous photographers, like Michael Kenna, throw plastic cameras into their luggage when they travel away on photoshoots. While others, like Tim Hixson, embrace plastic cameras for entire projects.

In the modern context, a plastic camera is just as liberating to a photographer as an Indian motorcycle would have been to a disgruntled teen of the 1950s. Breeze in the hair, no straight-head photographer rules and a highway leading to a curious horizon of possibilities.

My point is that you can stand back and look at the whole lomography movement (even the general back-to-film momentum around it) and not get why somebody would choose a medium that has been superseded by sharper and more perfection driven technologies. To many photographers this whole film thing is unfathomable. I understand that mental dilemma – there are freaks in the park with long hair, man… they’re smoking pot and being different. They’re passing around a Polaroid Automatic Land Camera and making stupid flawed images.

And, of course, you can use software to replicate the visual aesthetic of film photography. But that’s not the point.

Shooting film is about the slow drawn-out experience of enjoying a good wine. It’s about a slow kiss outside a theatre. It’s about the mental chess of pushing out two shots on a roll of film instead of machine-gunning the arse off a super-fast memory card. And it’s about the smell of chemicals and the magic of a process that dates back to the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore’s famous line from Apocalypse Now comes to mind “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Don’t be fooled that because the artefact appears to provide the same result that the two photographies are identical beyond their manacle to light. Film photography projects light onto an exposed chemical sensitive medium… the other projects light and interprets the ones-and-zeros on a sensitive digital chip.

It’s not saying one photography is better than the other, only that they’re different. You can enjoy both. But until you get down and dirty with some film – and there is no better way than with a cheap Holga 120n – you really haven’t danced with the devil and howled under the full moon at midnight. Film photography offers you a tactile experience, it’s about physics and chemistry. It’s about more than just the photographic artefact you come away with. Give it a try.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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