The Little Plastic Camera That Could

By: Brent Wood

I find it hard to believe that a thirty dollar camera with a single plastic non-coated lens, actually a plastic magnifying glass, has had such an impact on my students and me as a photographer. I am the product of a very rigid technical school, Brooks Institute of Photography; they beat all creativity out of me. Get it right, get it sharp, get it in the camera the first time, that is how I produced most of my professional images, that is until the little camera that could.

The Holga has little opportunity to excel in industrial/commercial photography, however the camera has the potential to completely change how a photographer sees and works within the fine art area of photography. I require each of my students to work with the camera on a project all semester long. Digital and film based students are forced, in the beginning at least, to work with medium format film, the Holga camera and the darkroom. Most of the students fight me on this project; they are digital and wish to stay that way. Fast foreword 16 weeks to the student photo show; each of the students must submit 5 photographs for the show, they can chose any 5 images from that semester. The best, most artistically pleasing images in the show are usually the Holga images produced for the semester long project. The student's are shacking their heads in disbelief that the multi thousand-dollar digital camera did not produce the images they chose to submit.

I am not sure if it is the lack of controls, or the point and shoot style of camera, or the fuzzy lens that vignettes that causes new photographers to see differently; new photographers just suddenly see and photograph objects they never saw or photographed before. Virtually every student is touched by the unique "quality" of the images produced by the Holga. At the end of the semester most of the students have purchased their own Holga camera rather than checking the school's Holga cameras out. Any student who wants to learn the technical side of photography can, it is the art side of photography that is much harder to teach and lean. The Holga has bridged that learning gap between teaching the technical aspects of photography and learning what is and what is not a photograph for art. I am convinced the Holga has enabled many technically proficient students to see art in the chaos of the world in front of them. The Victor Valley College students see better because of the little camera that could.