Last year, in mid November, I got a couple of Holga cameras. I had read about them online and I thought it could be a fun chapter in my photography adventures. If you know about Holga cameras and enjoy photography, you probably either love them or hate them.
Holga cameras are plastic film cameras first produced in Hong Kong in the early 80s marketed towards Chinese families. The cameras were cheap, cheaply produced, and used 120 film which was readily available in China at the time. Eventually the Holgas were advertised to foreign markets and they have gained a bit of a cult following over the years. The criticisms and the compliments of these cameras often focus on the same details. Holgas are known for their light leaks that can create weird and surreal spots in the photos, along with vignetting in the corners of photos, and slightly dreamy or unclear (depending upon your perspective and opinion) images. Over the years, Holgas have gone in and out of production, but you can still find new ones today and you may be able to score a new or used bargain via online auction and shopping sites.
The original Holga, with all its imperfections has a distinct advantage over 35mm point and shoot cameras with its slightly larger images that add to their distinct look. Over the years, a number of different Holgas have been produced, including 35mm versions, pinhole models, and panoramic options. I have a 120 version and a pinhole camera and one that uses 35mm film. I love that I can learn about 120 film, pinhole photography, and also have a 35mm point and shoot option, all within the Holga family.
It’s the relative simplicity of the Holga that is part of its attraction, along with the unique Holga images. I have read mountains of online comments of those who enjoy the ease and imperfections of a Holga and others who ridicule the Holga’s mere existence. I don’t quite understand the derision, but I do love the fun that these cameras bring and the creativity that they inspire. As a hobby photographer who is still at the very beginning of learning, sometimes it’s nice to just be able to take photos and experiment with photography at my current skill and knowledge base.
This past winter, I learned about Holga Week, a week-long celebration of Holgas, run by a Dallas-area photographer known as Mr. Holga. It is the first week of October and is a wonderful creative project and goal. What I also love is that you can celebrate Holga Week wherever you are, no gathering or entry fee required. It is a photography contest after all, but I really appreciate the idea of just getting out with my Holgas during those seven days and taking photos and having fun. If you want to join in, visit Holga Week to learn more.
Basically, take your Holga camera out and take photos during the first week in October. If you want to participate in the contest, the idea is that you take photos during that week like everyone else. Then you have a couple of weeks to develop your film, pick your images, scan them, and submit up to three photos total. For details on the contest, photo categories, and submissions, visit here. There are judges for each category, and last year’s overall winner gets to choose the overall winner for this year. In addition, there’s a Select category where the participating photographers can vote for their favorites.
I love having a creative project with a distinct timeline, and it’s joyous to celebrate with other people who enjoy the same hobby and niche as I do, even if it’s from afar. I adore the limitations of the Holga camera and the imagination that it can inspire. It’s fun to slow down with film and think more about what you are creating. If you have multiple cameras and multiple lenses, it can be freeing to use a camera with one attached lens and scale things down.
I have been thinking a lot lately about creativity and how to keep my own creative life fruitful. Sometimes it means taking on a new challenge, learning a new skill, or using limitations to spark a creative opportunity. The Holga Week is a great way to really focus on film photography, and there’s nothing like an external timeline that can help spur you on in your efforts. The Holga camera is also a great example of how a limitation can be inspiring. The simplicity of the camera and its weakness/strengths can be part of a wonderful creative journey. What can you do with those vignettes and light leaks? What comes in to focus and what surprises you? I hope you get to celebrate Holga Week or take on a new creative challenge of your own. Please share in the comments what you have been doing to keep creative juices flowing!
With Holga Week in mind, I will end this post with a quote that I recently came across that talks about limitations and how that seems a perfect beginning for any creative process.
“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit . . . and the arbitrariness serves only to obtain precision of execution.”–Igor Stravinsky