This is my second year of celebrating Holga Week, which is October 1-7 every year. It can be a fun week, and it’s such a great way to celebrate creativity, both individually and collectively, from afar or together.
Holga Week is a week for people to take out their Holga cameras and to create images. At the end, there is the chance to share three of your pictures both for the community celebration and even a contest. For more information, visit Holgaweek.com which is hosted by a generous volunteer, Mr. Holga, not his real name, of the Dallas area. Unless you already took photos with a Holga, it’s too late to participate this year, but if you took photos during Holga Week, you have until November 7 to submit your images. You can always pick up a Holga and get ready for next year!
What is a Holga camera, you ask? It is a small plastic camera, first manufactured in Hong Kong, China, in 1982. Like the Kodak Brownie, and other cameras before and after, it was designed to be a cheap camera aimed at the masses for amateur photography. The first Holgas used 120 film, and at least from what I’ve read, that film was more readily available in China at the time. Since the first Holga, there have been various iterations of the Holga, using both 120 and 35mm film. In the 90s and beyond, the Holga cameras were discovered for their imperfections due to the the plastic manufacturing, that only added to their allure. The imperfections include vignetting and light leaks and the soft lens. Part of the charm, and the critique, of the cameras is that each of them is different, and so each lens is unique and these cameras are predictably unpredictable. The so-called problems with the cameras is also what makes them sought after. The cameras have been in and out of production over the last 40 years, so you can find various models of the cameras, both new and used, for around $20-$100. Holgas have maintained their popularity over the years, perhaps even more now with a resurgence in the popularity of film and their relatively cheap price, as well as the shear number of them, making them easy to find.
I have four Holga cameras. For this year’s Holga Week, I have taken each of them out for a spin with a roll or two of film. I enjoy the creativity that these cameras inspire, and what a concentrated week celebrating these plastic marvels can do for my own vision and creative output. First, there’s something to having an event to spark interest or to spur your output. It’s like a deadline for a writer, or a race for a runner. It’s nice to have an event to take the camera off the shelf and load it with a roll of film and think about what you want to take pictures of. It’s inspiring to have a particular time frame to focus on something.
I think that in this age of the pandemic that never seems to end, it’s nice to have an event that I can participate in on my own, and yet still share with others who are doing the same with their Holgas in the same week. It’s different than being on the starting line of a 5K where you start together, or watching a play and sharing a collective one-time artistic experience. I think, for me, it’s a collective psychic (spiritual? psychological?) experience. I took each of the four cameras out on four different days, and even without sharing on social media, I could somehow feel that other people were using their similar cameras, or it was a groovy imagination exercise. No matter the miles or the timeframe, it is fun to share in something, particularly in a celebration. Holga Week is a celebration of photography and creativity. I enjoy the collective and yet individual experience.
For me, Holga Week has multiple feelings of collective creativity. There’s something to an event that makes you think about this little camera and really give it some attention for a week. I also think that due to the plastic imperfections of these cameras, it’s difficult to take yourself too seriously. Yes, beautiful artistic work can be created, but I love just setting myself free and seeing what comes out of letting go of those boundaries and limitations. Yeah, those four cameras sit on my shelf all year long, and I do use them at other times during the year, but I appreciate the chance to prioritize using them in terms of time and effort and money, considering the costs of film and developing. I considered how I was going to squeeze it in to a regular week of life and where and what I wanted to capture and create. Lately, the price of film has really increased, both due to popularity and production issues somewhat related to the pandemic, so I also needed to consider that. Luckily, I already had some film on hand, so I used film that I had already purchased, but I still needed to think about what I used and how much. I also needed to consider the costs for film developing, since I don’t know how or have the equipment to develop my own (that is a future goal, but not right now). I’m not a professional photographer, and this is a hobby, and Holga Week is a voluntary celebration. What does that mean in terms of prioritizing money and effort and time? How can those limitations, both real and imagined, also be the entry point to creation?
I will send a few rolls of film to get developed, and then I will pick three images to submit for Holga Week. For me the submission process is really about commitment and follow-through, which have been two weaknesses of mine. I am determined to rewrite that story, though, a step at a time. Holga Week is a chance for me to really follow up with the week of images, to sit down with the developed film and find my three favorites. It’s also a great exercise, both in seeing how I’m doing as a photographer, and in having to evaluate the pictures and narrow down my results to three. I have no expectation that I will win a category award, but I want to submit something and share a few images with people who are also taking part in the week with me. The categories are Street, Nature, Portrait, and Pinhole. In addition, there is the “Holga Select” category, in which all participating photographers get to vote on their favorite, much like a “people’s choice” award. Viewing and voting on other images is a lovely exercise, if you are a participant, and a great way to take some time to see what people have submitted and vote for your favorites. Spending some time looking at photography helps me to learn more about photography. There is also something to putting my name next to an image, not as an ego trip, but in saying to myself that I took time and energy to express myself, even in something as ephemeral as an imperfect Holga snashot.